Thunder embrace HOPE Week
Every so often, however, you get a moment of clarity, a piece of perspective that shows you how lucky you are to live a life so many children will lust for but never know.
That’s what was waiting for the Thunder this week, after a grueling overnight trip home from Akron with the opening salvo of another series looming just hours after arrival.
Instead of hitting the pillow, it was time to report to the ballpark, where Jeff Farnham and Tyler Austin helped kick off the Thunder’s fifth annual HOPE Week, an organization-wide celebration of giving back and honoring those who spend their lives doing the same.
“Just being labeled as a professional athlete, there’s so many (ways) people view us and what we really do,” Thunder pitcher Mikey O’Brien said. “To be able to reach out and do things for underprivileged families or communities or whatever it may be, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise. It means just as much to us as it means to them.”
Farnham and Austin used part of their afternoon on Friday volunteering with children at the local YMCA playing tug-of-war, basketball, signing autographs and generally spending time with kids who see ballplayers, no matter their level, as heroes.
“HOPE Week was awesome last year,” Farnham said, “so I wanted to jump right in and do it again. I didn’t know if this would be the only slot we had available, so I got worried a little bit, but it was great. It was a great opportunity, a great experience. I think we all enjoyed doing it. It was a good way to give back.”
Saturday was Special Olympics day, and the athletes were treated to a pregame camp with appearances from several Thunder players, manager Tony Franklin, batdog Derby and, of course, Boomer. The campers also attended Saturday night’s game and got the opportunity to cheer on their new friends.
Franklin was a little under the weather and still dragging a bit from the last few days of travel and games, but that all changed once he got to hang out with a group of youngsters who were overjoyed just to spend a few hours on the field he calls home six months a year.
“I wasn’t feeling too good when I came here. I was pretty tired when I came in. That changed pretty quick when I went outside,” he explained. “I got out and got involved and saw the kids, got a chance to talk to the kids. They know quite a bit about the Thunder. They knew who I was. That always kind of touches your heart.”
On Sunday, the Thunder will honor a staff member who went above and beyond to assist restoration efforts in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. That will be followed on Monday with player appearances at the Rescue Mission of Trenton, and on Tuesday with a performance from the Trenton Children’s Chorus.
Outfielder Shane Brown also helped out during Saturday’s camp. He was here for last year’s HOPE Week, and made an appearance with a couple of teammates at a local housing community. He chose the Special Olympics this year because of the extremely positive reviews he’d heard from teammates who’d participated last season.
“I heard a lot of great things about last year, and I wanted to go out there and interact with kids playing baseball and see what that was all about,” he said. “It was awesome working with them, and they brought a lot of energy. It made me happy to be on the ballfield – just as happy as they were. It was great to interact with them and have fun sharing the same game I love.”