Free Angel game for 500 'at-risk' kids
ANAHEIM – Monday was game day at Angel Stadium for more than 500 Orange County students.
The day that had given them incentive to drag themselves out of bed and make it to school on time, even though it might have been tempting to stay at home and hang out with friends.
Some 500 students from 17 schools who were identified as "at-risk" because of frequent absences from school or behavior issues were treated to a free Angels baseball game Monday – a gift from the ball club.
They also got behind-the-dugout seats for the Angels warm-up and a personal pep talk from two Angels stars, outfielders Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter.
It was a reward for improved behavior at school, for maintaining good attendance and for staying away from gangs.
"These are the kids of this community's future," said Tim Mead, Angels spokesman. "The team has a responsibility that exceeds baseball and this is our opportunity to work with law enforcement to try to steer kids along the right path."
The program is sponsored by the District Attorney's office, the Sheriff's office and the police departments of Anaheim, Buena Park and Orange.
Last fall, more than 800 students were identified by the Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership (GRIP) as being at high-risk for joining gangs. Some had as many as 10 suspensions in one school year.
The students were informed that if they stayed in school and away from gangs, they would earn a free trip to the stadium.
About 500 met the challenge.
They were the first to enter the stadium gates on Monday – four hours before game time – each receiving a free Angels cap.
"For many of these kids, it's the first time they've been inside this stadium – and to see them this up close. I don't even get to sit this close," said Anaheim Sgt. Juan Reveles, who works with the GRIP program.
Then with a few cheers, Abreu and Hunter appeared in full uniform and hopped atop the dugout to talk to the kids.
Hunter spoke about his difficulties growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and about how his dad used to disappear for days at a time. His mom was the disciplinarian who kept him in line.
He encouraged them to listen to their parents and respect law enforcement because they are there to help, he said.
"What you do now will affect you later," Hunter said. "Whatever you are going through right now, try to change that trail."
Abreu said it's fine to be out on the street, as long as they are doing good – like playing sports.
He was so impressed with the students' efforts that he surprised them by offering them tickets to a second game. This time he and Hunter would pick up the tab.
David Santos, a sixth-grader from Walter Elementary in Anaheim, said the program has given him reason to stay in school.
"I've already seen it help my math grades," he said. "And it's good because it keeps me busy and out of trouble."