Yankees' HOPE week returns for fourth year

Yankees' HOPE week returns for fourth year

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees announced the return of HOPE Week prior to Friday afternoon's game against the Twins at George M. Steinbrenner Field, ushering in the fourth consecutive season for the award-winning community event.

HOPE, which stands for Helping Others Persevere & Excel, is a week-long community program that highlights five stories intended to inspire people into action in their own communities. This year's HOPE Week will take place from June 25-29. Each day, the Yankees will celebrate the accomplishments of an individual, family or organization they deem worthy of recognition and support, with the outreach programs often taking place outside of Yankee Stadium.

During Friday's ceremony, the Yankees honored 17-year-old Tampa Catholic High School baseball player Owen Sarwatka, a Yankees fan who created "Everyone Can Play," a nonprofit, volunteer-run baseball skills clinic for children with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. Sarwatka created the program as a sophomore in high school. He and his parents, Suzanne and Frank, were recognized on the field, along with participants and volunteers from the group.

Sarwatka, born with a malfunctioning kidney that has required multiple surgeries and caused chronic pain, passed up Christmas presents so he could bring in donations for the initiative, then put in hundreds of hours further planning the first "Everyone Can Play" event, which took place on Jan. 15, 2011, and saw more than 300 people attend.

The second event, held this January, drew more than 450 people, including 60 special-needs children, and they are already working on setting up a third clinic for January 2013.

Friday's pregame ceremony kicked off the announcement, with the Twins fittingly on the other side of the field. Minnesota will hold its second annual HOPE Week from June 10-16, 2012. The Twins also honored 13-year-old Tyler Groenner, battling leukemia, and 4-year-old Blake Hadley, who survived a near-drowning. Manager Ron Gardenhire spent time with both before Friday's game.

Fans can learn more about the initiative and nominate individuals to be recognized online at HOPE Week's official website, hopeweek.com.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.