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Yankees help Haitian refugee children with HOPE

By Joe Vaccarello and Richard Roth, CNN
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'Field of Dreams' for Haitian kids
  • A group of Haitian children are surprised with a trip to a Yankee ball game
  • Derek Jeter and Joe Girardi are among those who greet them
  • Afterward, team members take them on a tour of New York City

New York (CNN) -- The 10 Haitian students from Sts. Joachim and Anne's School in New York's Queens Village boarded the yellow school bus thinking they were headed to the library on a special school trip. When they got off, however, it wasn't at a library but at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

It was the beginning of a day full of surprises.

The children, ages 7 to 13, are survivors of the catastrophic Haitian earthquake of January 2010. Several of them lost friends and family and they themselves became refugees. They all have gone through trauma and have painful memories.

But Wednesday was a day to put those memories aside, if even for a short while, and to enjoy a baseball game and other good times provided by the New York Yankees.

Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter hustled up the dugout steps and greeted the kids, "How you doing? I'm Derek Jeter. Nice to meet you."

"Young lady how are you?" asked Yankee manager Joe Girardi.

The Yankees call this HOPE Week. It stands for Helping Others Preserve and Excel, an initiative in which the Yankees reach out to an individual, family or organization they think is "worthy of recognition and support." This is the third year for the charity event.

"It's an opportunity for us to give back, but in the long run, we're the ones who are truly blessed by these people" Girardi told CNN.

The kids were treated to seeing the baseball superstars take their batting practice before the game. One of the children, Charles, got to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

After the game, first baseman Jorge Posada had the students race around the infield bases before they boarded a double-decker tour bus along with a few of the Yankees for a tour of the city.

Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said of the kids on the tour, "Being able to hang out with them going on a bus tour in New York City, I think is pretty cool and I've never done it. The kids are excited, so we are excited."

When the kids got to midtown Manhattan, everybody piled out of the bus and into the lobby of the Empire State Building for the ceremonial lighting of building, followed by a skyline view from the 86th floor observatory.

Nine-year-old Frantz Blues summed it up pretty well when he said, "New York is really, really big."

From there it was onto a pizzeria, where Derek Jeter boarded the bus with some pies. He knew the kids were glad to see him, but not because of his 3,000-plus hits: "It's fun, but you know I think the kids are more happy with the pizza than me showing up."

The children's principal, Linda Freebes, acknowledged what the day meant for the youngsters: "I'm sure that they will treasure this memory forever. And all the unhappiness they had, this is a glimmer of sunshine and hope in their lives."