When Brian Giles returned to his native San Diego in 2003, it wasn't hometown pride that compelled his visits to the local Children's Hospital.
The 36-year-old outfielder was already passionate about visiting with hospitalized kids, whether they were in Cleveland or Pittsburgh, his previous career stops. When he signed with San Diego, he simply transferred his commitment 2,000 miles west.
"I did it in pretty much every city I played in," said Giles, who was the Pittsburgh Pirates' recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award in 1999 and 2000. "Obviously, you feel more comfortable in your hometown.
"Children's Hospital is always the charity I did. In Cleveland, coming up, they asked me to visit the hospital. Ever since then, it hit me a little, and I figured that's where I'd spend most of the time doing things for the kids."
But in the process, Giles had to do some growing up, steeling himself to the conditions of the children he'd encounter. It's gut-wrenching to meet a child whose life hangs in the balance due to cancer.
"I think it puts this game into perspective really easy," Giles said. "Obviously it's tough to go into some of those rooms. You just do it. For me, it puts this game into perspective with what some of those kids are going through, opposed to me taking an 0-for-4 and having a chance another day to change my destiny. For them, it sometimes doesn't work out. It hits you.
"People don't understand what it does to big-league ballplayers when you have a kid there who has not been given a good hand, and you're able to make an impact. They definitely make a big impact on us."
Giles has set up a regular program in which he brings ill children to PETCO Park, a break from the clinical routine of hospital life. Ten fortunate children per homestand get to see Giles and the Padres, thanks to his efforts.
"Every homestand, I bring them out to a game," he said. "A limousine will pick them up at the hospital and bring them to the stadium. They'll see batting practice. They'll get to see the guys, get autographs, take pictures. Then they go up to a suite. They'll watch the game and have all kinds of food and drinks. The limo will take back to the hospital. It's great for them to come down. They're big fans anyway. To see what it does for them is awesome."
Giles is pleased he can support a worthy institution, while participating in private fundraising to offset gaps in public support.
"Children's Hospital does a great job fundraising and getting other people involved to try to raise funds for extra equipment, doctors," said Giles, who won the team's Chairman's Award for Community Service in 2004. "It's going to be a continuing process where people reach out and give. They handle their stuff first class and I'm proud to be a part of it."
Giles said he can't quite keep up with the impact on San Diego that teammate and all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman provides. But as with any team, all players' contributions pool themselves together as the sum of the parts.
"Trevor is Mr. San Diego," he said. "We're in position where we can use our names to help the community. That's just the way of us giving back and thanking people for the support they've given us over the years in San Diego."
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.