After his wife died in a fire, this single father found hope in an unexpected place
MOUNT DORA, Fla. — In an instant, Neil Zierden’s world…
Blogging from Arlington, Texas
For most of the sellout crowd of 46,179 fans who filled Rangers Ballpark, the most exciting moment Friday night — actually, Saturday morning — came when Texas slugger Nelson Cruz led off the 13th inning with a game-winning home run.
For three little girls who call Christ’s Haven for Children home, though, the Rangers’ 6-5 win over the New York Yankees was secondary to what occurred before the game.
Ten-year-old Vivi and sisters Ashley, 9, and Natalie, 11, wore brand-new, matching red Rangers’ caps with white T’s. While awaiting a pre-game ceremony, they played in the grass near the visiting team’s on-deck circle. They giggled and exchanged high-fives with “Captain,” the Texas mascot.
Minutes later, the girls and Christ’s Haven development director Karen Yarbrough joined Michael Young, the Rangers’ All-Star third baseman, near home plate.
The ballpark’s main scoreboard splashed the girls’ smiling faces across the big screen as the public-address announcer introduced them and Young leaned in to greet them.
The reason for the hoopla?
For the second straight year, Young was named the Rangers’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet, which gives $7,500 to the charity of the player’s choice.
And for the second straight year, Young designated Christ’s Haven as the recipient of his donation. The children’s home in Keller, Texas, north of Fort Worth, is associated with Churches of Christ. (I wrote a column in 2007 on my parents’ 25 years of service as houseparents at Christ’s Haven.)
Highlights from a Rangers’ news release announcing Young’s selection:
• The Clemente Award is given annually to a Major League Baseball player who combined a dedication to giving back to the community with outstanding skills on the baseball field. (Past overall winners include former Houston Astros manager and five-time All-Star Cecil Cooper, a member of the Anderson Street Church of Christ in Sealy, 50 miles west of Houston.)
• “Christ’s Haven for Children provides a warm, loving, Christian environment in which children in need of basic care can grow physically, emotionally and spiritually to become productive citizens in society,” the release said.
• “The Rangers are proud to nominate Michael Young for this most prestigious award,” Rangers President Nolan Ryan said. “Michael has been a community leader in the DFW Metroplex for a decade, and his efforts and generosity have touched thousands of lives in that span. He is a most worthy nominee for the Clemente Award.”
• “It is very humbling to be selected again this year as the Texas Rangers Clemente Award nominee,” said Young, who has donated about $450,000 to various charities and causes through the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation over the last 10 years. “Being able to help others is very important to me.”
Christ’s Haven used the $7,500 it received last year to build a new playground. This year’s donation will go toward a refrigeration project at the home’s food pantry, Yarbrough said. A Rangers’ staff member who is familiar with Christ’s Haven recommended it to Young.
Vivi, Ashley and Natalie live at Cottage 5 at Christ’s Haven with houseparents John and Lucretia McMicken. How do you spell that? “Like McChicken, except with an ‘M,'” John McMicken told me as we talked before the game.
As I tried to remember the girls’ names, I noted that Ashley had ponytails, Natalie wore glasses and Vivi had brown hair.
“And I own a baseball,” added Vivi, who brought the ball to her first major-league game.
Before walking down a tunnel to the field, the girls said they were excited about the ceremony. And the game.
As the extra-innings marathon stretched past five hours — and their bedtime — the girls headed home, so they missed the dramatic ending.
But for them, the best part came at the beginning.
Children who call Christ’s Haven home typically know all about dealing with difficult circumstances: Neglect. Abuse. Parents addicted to drugs and alcohol.
For one night, however, three little girls found themselves a world away from any such worries or concerns.
On this night, the stadium’s bright lights shined on them.
“All the issues the kids have, it was gone for a night,” said Lucretia McMicken, a Christ’s Haven housemother for 10 years. “They were able to just be kids and to laugh. It was so exciting for them, shaking hands with Michael Young and talking to him.
“It was just a magical evening.”
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