NEW YORK -- Wearing Santa caps and broad grins, Mariano Rivera and Bobby Abreu helped distribute some holiday cheer in the Throgs Neck area of the Bronx on Friday, handing out gifts to more than 300 children. The Yankees stars were the guests of honor at the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club, where a group of top local students selected by the Fundacion Dominicana de Deportes en Nueva York filled a gymnasium, waiting for presents and a chance to meet the Major Leaguers. "Anything for the kids," Rivera said. "I always believe in giving back."
Standing underneath a basketball hoop, Abreu and Rivera -- plus former big league infielder Roberto Alomar -- were surrounded with clamor. One by one, they handed out a selection of donated gifts to a group of children from various New York City boroughs, as a reward for having earned outstanding grades in their respective schools. Patting several children on the head as they received their toys, Abreu reflected on having something of an arduous journey to make it to the event, which serves to encourage development of Dominican sports in New York City. The Yankees outfielder waited more than 12 hours for a weather-delayed flight from Miami to New York, but he said the trip had been worth it. "To spend time with the kids is what it's all about, and what we really wanted," Abreu said. "We're just looking to get a little smile for those kids. They did a really good job in school, so they get a present." Clutching a microphone, a grinning Rivera delivered a speech in which, speaking in Spanish, he urged the children to follow their dreams and consider the importance of taking their educations seriously. "I love it, because it's great to give back," Rivera said. "I don't believe in just taking." Prior to the gift distribution, Abreu and Rivera were presented with large crystal awards by Daniel Reyes, the president of the sports foundation. Also honored was Cesar Presbott, a respected Yankees scout who has patrolled the sandlots and ballfields of the New York area for the last 14 seasons, uncovering the next talented athletes dreaming of playing in the Bronx. Yankee Stadium may be in the minds of many, but on a different level, Héctor Martínez, the executive director of the Fundacion Dominicana de Deportes, said that greater plans are in the works. Any area child who wishes to swing a bat should be able to, by the time the last snow has melted in the spring. Martínez said the foundation and the Boys & Girls Club, a non-profit organization which aims to provide after-school activities, have agreed to begin working together immediately on a program to spread baseball throughout the area, beginning instruction with indoor clinics. Programs for other sports, including volleyball, soccer and basketball, will also be formed. Still, Martínez said that it is baseball -- no coincidence, with a pair of Yankees superstars on hand and numerous Little League clubs in attendance -- that was on the minds of most. "They're very interested," Martínez said. "They want to play baseball. They just don't have the facilities. We're going to give that to them."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.