It was 2:30 a.m. last Friday, nearly two hours after a win by the home team over the A's, but Yankee Stadium was far from quiet. A dozen children were playing in the outfield, where a juggler on stilts, a magician, an inflatable moon bounce and several Yankees competed for their attention. The party raged until 4 a.m., when the children had to board a bus back to Camp Sundown in Craryville, N.Y., to be in bed before sunrise.
The frolicking kids suffer from light-sensitivity diseases such as xeroderma pigmentosum, a rare congenital disorder that keeps skin cells from repairing damage caused by ultraviolet light. Such conditions make exposure to sunlight dangerous and force sufferers to lead isolating indoor lives. The Yankees invited the Sundown campers for a nighttime carnival as part of HOPE Week, a five-day series of charitable events.
The idea was hatched last fall by the team's public relations director, Jason Zillo, who was looking for a way for the Yankees to give back to the community beyond financial donations and pregame meet and greets. All 25 players on the roster participated in HOPE Week, which included a clinic for a Little League team and lunch with the family of an Army paratrooper suffering from ALS.
For several years Zillo had made memorabilia contributions to Camp Sundown founders Dan and Caren Mahar, who started the camp after their daughter, Katie, now 17, was diagnosed with XP in 1996. It gives kids a summer-camp experience—activities are at night—free of charge, with one-week sessions funded by donors. The Yankees gave Camp Sundown $10,000 during the event, but more important to the campers were the personal touches. The kids arrived after sunset and watched the game from a luxury suite; afterward they were in the infield as part of the players' high-five lineup. A half-dozen Yankees, including starter A.J. Burnett and catcher Jorge Posada, stayed for the carnival, throwing Wiffle balls, kicking soccer balls and signing autographs. "I signed up immediately once I heard about this disease," says Burnett. "I never thought anything like this [disorder] even existed."
"The message of acceptance it sends to these children will last them a lifetime," said Dan Mahar, who choked up at the sight of Katie running around the outfield. For kids like her the event was better than a dream. "This is amazing," Katie said. "To step even one foot on Yankee Stadium is so cool."
MEN FROM HOPE After getting slap-happy, the Sundown kids frolicked with players such as Burnett (left).