Rays Players Make the Rounds at All Children's Amid Soaring Spirits and A Few Surprises

Luke Scott knows a thing or two about duck hunting and the great outdoors. So the Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter couldn’t contain his smile last week after asking a little boy at All Children’s Hospital if he’d watched the Rays game the night before on TV.

“No,” said the child.  “I was watching Duck Dynasty.”

Scott nodded approvingly at the honest reply, even if it meant the boy hadn’t seen Tampa Bay’s dramatic, walk-off win over Seattle that put the team back on track in the heat of a division race.

Duck Dynasty? Yeah, I like that show, too,” the slugger said of the reality TV hit. “Hunting and fishing – that’s my type of lifestyle.”

Scott proceeded to sign a custom baseball card for the young patient and wished him well, then moved down the long hall to meet more kids – part of an hour-long tour last week that also featured hard-throwing relief pitcher Jake McGee and scene-stealing, sea-dog mascot Raymond, who flopped on floors, commandeered nursing stations and comically climbed into hospital beds.

In another room, the ballplayer met up with 17-year-old patient Dylan Hastings. Scott looked at Dylan’s shock of brown hair and suggested it might have the makings of No. 30’s modified-“Rayhawk” – minus the ‘80s rat-tail he’s worn lately.

“You let your hair grow just a little bit more, you’ll have the right look,” he said, drawing laughs from the teen’s girlfriend and his mother, Jennifer, thrilled to pose for a photo with Scott. “He’s my favorite!” she said.

Dylan was part of a nice double-play. One day earlier, he was visited by three umpires in town to work the Rays-Mariners series – snagging a Build-A-Bear stuffed animal for his girlfriend and a squeezable baseball for himself. Now he had a big-leaguer in his room making friendly chit-chat, along with Raymond’s bed-side antics for the second straight day.

“It was perfect,” Dylan said. “It makes me feel better actually.”

One floor below, McGee was making similar contact with kids and families, eventually joined by Raymond as well. In one particular room, they happened upon a familiar face – that of longtime Rays radio broadcaster Andy Freed, whose 3-year-old son Casey was recovering from neurosurgery. The moment McGee and Raymond walked through the door, Casey’s face lit up, while the expressions of his parents reflected emotion and gratitude over the surprise visit.

“This whole thing has been pretty intense,” Freed said. “You know, I’ve done visits over the years to hospitals. But to be on this end of it, I’ve never had this experience. Now I see it means so much more than I ever realized. It’s absolutely magic. He’s been in so much pain the last few days, and now seeing him smile, it’s hard to hold back crying.”

Just another day on the floors of All Children’s, where magic takes all shapes – sometimes in the form of a big-league ballplayer, a furry blue mascot or the simple smile of a sick child.

Faces and Places” is a regular column written by Strategic Communications Editor Dave Scheiber highlighting those people, places and things that make All Children’s Hospital special. Video by Mollie Scheiber

Kids Revel in Western Week Summer Camp at All Children's

Cowboy Gordie was hard at work on a recent morning at All Children’s Hospital, twirling a rope above his head in trick patterns just the way he did when he worked with TV’s original Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore, and on other vintage Hollywood sets.

But in truth, the octogenarian saddle man with the amazing lasso moves was the one getting roped in – by a roomful of young patients on the final day of a week-long, western summer camp.

While many children enjoy all kinds of outdoor camps over the break, that’s not always possible for the kids hospitalized at All Children’s. So with a new school year looming on the horizon, the Child Life Department once again swung into action to stage five days of summer-camp fun for hospital-bound children last week.

All corners of the Children’s Auditorium were decked out western style – complete with sepia-toned wanted posters (featuring the faces of the Child Life staff), areas for crafts and games, a small mechanical pony that little kids could pet and climb on, a replica of a stockade, special isolated tables for patients whose conditions put them at risk for infections, and popular country music tunes filling the air. The event was broadcast from a closed-circuit system into hospital rooms, so any child who couldn’t attend still could watch on TV.

As an added touch, there was even a “miner’s cart” that was brought to the hospital rooms each day for those who needed to stay in bed. Patients were told that miners in the auditorium had collected gold for them (well, gold-painted rocks sifted from inside a big box of sand). Room-bound kids could then trade the gold for special prizes, ensuring that everyone was involved.

“The kids here don’t get to go to summer camp, so instead we bring summer camp to them.”
said Child Life Director Kristin Maier. “They’ve been fully engaged and all the activities have been carefully planned by our staff. We sat down a few months ago to start planning camp week – we just have a lot of creative people who envisioned this.”

The theme of one session was “campfire day,” with music therapist Kelly Tyrrell leading everyone in camp songs and kids making s’mores. There was a day that featured a trail mix bar and creating popsicle-stick craft frames to hold photos taken of the kids, and another where patients turned bendable foam pool noodles into horses decorated with plastic googly eyes and felt for hair.

Friday’s ho-down and roping show was organized by Child Life intern Rayna Tanis as her special project of the summer. “It’s very exciting,” she said. “I’m just so happy that it all came together – we have the music, the entertainment, the trick ropers. And they’re so great.”

Gordie Peer, who drove in from Okeechobee, was joined by a professional roper he trained himself, Mike Wooldridge of Naples. The two performers – located in an Internet search by Child Life Specialist Leah Frohnerath – shared the spotlight, treating the packed audience to numerous classic roping and twirling tricks. Their moves immediately caught the attention of 7-year-old Gianna. When Peer asked for a volunteer, she stood up out of her wheelchair and walked to the front of the room, where she managed to get the rope spinning with a helping hand from the old cowboy.
“The cowboys made me want to learn,” she said with a smile.

And the cowboys learned something themselves from the crowd of kids, many dealing with one form of adversity or another.

“They’re so special and we need to do special things for them,” said Wooldridge.

Creating an indoor western summer camp, capped off with some fancy rope twirling, did the trick just fine.

 Faces and Places” is a regular column written by Strategic Communications Editor Dave Scheiber highlighting those people, places and things that make All Children’s Hospital special. Video by Mollie Scheiber.