shriners

Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez, left, became fast friends with Alec Cabacungan, right. Cabacungan is a young Shriners patient who aspires to join the sports media world.

Courtesty of Shriners Hospitals for Children

Ever wanted to live the life of a Bear? Nearly 200 Central Texas young people will get that chance on Saturday.

For the sixth consecutive year, Baylor Ballpark will play host to the Shriners Hospitals for Children Baseball Classic. The event will allow 175 players from 15 Little League Challenger Division teams from around Waco and Texas to hit the Baylor diamond and experience the life of a Division I ballplayer for a day.

For Dustin Johnson, head of sports marketing for Shriners Hospitals for Children, the partnership with Baylor continues to pay dividends year after year.

“If you look at college baseball programs across the country, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything similar to what the Baylor University program has given to Shriners,” Johnson said. “It’s a collaborative effort, and it’s unique in that it allows those kids the opportunity to live a day in the life of a Baylor Bear. It’s just an incredible experience for a lot of young people.”

The event seems to expand every year. On Saturday Baylor Ballpark will play host to eight games in the Challenger Division, which provides baseball and softball playing opportunities for kids with physical and mental challenges. The 175 players involved marks the largest total yet, Johnson said.

“A lot of that can be attributed to the growth in the local Waco Challenger Little League,” Johnson said. “I think it’s the largest group they’ve had in 30 years of doing it. When we started this event in 2012, the Waco league had six teams and now there are 12, so it’s doubled in that time.”

Baylor players and coaches will be at the ballpark to lend a hand in the games. It’s become a special project for the Bears. During the team’s stay in Houston for the Shriners Hospital for Children Houston College Classic earlier this year, they visited with a number of patients. Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez became fast friends with Alec Cabacungan, a young, wheel-chaired Shriners patient who aspires to join the sports media world.

“Alec is the absolute perfect spokesman for Shriners,” Rodriguez said. “He’s very articulate, definitely going to be a broadcaster someday. He has such a phenomenal personality. He’s one of those kids when you meet him the first time, you know you’re going to be friends for a long time.”

Admission to Saturday’s event is free. However, Johnson said there are always opportunities to donate to Shriners Hospitals for Children, which consists of 22 non-profit medical facilities in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

“We feel like if we can educate one more family on what we do, it’s a meaningful weekend,” Johnson said.

It’s an off weekend for Baylor following a week of final exams, but Rodriguez said these types of events are significant, perspective-building moments for his team.

“It’s important for the team, one, because you get to do something that’s a selfless act and be a part of kids’ lives,” Rodriguez said. “The kids get to have fun and get to appreciate the game we’re so blessed to be able to play. And maybe for a little while they can forget some of what they’re dealing with.”

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