Ozzie brightens sick kids' spirits on eve of Game 3

Ozzie brightens sick kids' spirits on eve of Game 3

Ozzie brightens sick kids' spirits on eve of Game 3

ST. LOUIS -- The World Series is back in St. Louis for the fourth time in the past decade, and legendary Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith remembers how that atmosphere felt.

The Hall of Famer was a Fall Classic fixture during the 1980s, as the Cards played three Game 7s in the decade -- against the Brewers in '82, the Royals in '85 and the Twins in '87.

"October is always a special time of year for us in St. Louis," Smith said. "We've become spoiled, as we seem to make it to the World Series quite often. We're making it a habit.

"It's like the '80s. It's a quality of baseball that people have come to expect. The credit goes to the management, ownership, of making sure we always try to put a quality product on the field. I think that tradition continues today. It creates an excitement this time of year that is like nothing else that a community can experience."

"The Wizard" helped officially greet the return of the World Series on Friday, appearing at Mercy Hospital to meet with youth patients as Major League Baseball, the Cardinals and the Starlight Children's Foundation donated a mobile Starlight Fun Center to help brighten the days of kids undergoing treatment.

"We're really excited to be a part of this, because it means the Cardinals are in the World Series," said Michael Hall, vice president of community relations for the Cardinals Care foundation. "It's really great to see kids and be able to provide something to help them out and ease the pain and keep them occupied. It gives them something to do. From the Cardinals and Cardinals Care, we try to be involved in the community as much as we can."

The event was part of MLB's fifth annual World Series community initiative program for Games 1-4, each game dedicated to different themes for a lasting legacy. As the backdrop to Game 3 in St. Louis on Saturday (6:30 p.m. CT on FOX, 7:07 first pitch), MLB will highlight its commitment to youth from underserved communities all day long through events involving Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), the importance of education through the Breaking Barriers program, and celebrate community service through the announcement of the winner of the Robert Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet.

Game 4 on Sunday (7 p.m. CT on FOX) will look to inspire fans worldwide to join MLB and Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) in advancing the fight against cancer. In Boston, Game 1 was dedicated to Welcome Back Veterans and Game 2 focused on two longtime MLB charitable partners in Boys & Girls Clubs and Habitat for Humanity, as well as the Baseball Tomorrow Fund.

"It's always been important, and I think they've done a great job getting out into the community," Smith said of the donation, which has become a World Series tradition, done just a few days ago at Boston Children's Hospital as well. "We all, in each one of our communities, have a lot of work to do to try to make life better for everybody. I call it the team concept. Here in St. Louis, we are fortunate that there are a lot of players and a lot of people who spend a lot of time visiting hospitals like this. That's why so many guys who come here often stay here."

In case you are wondering, Smith had a big appreciation for the double steal the Cards pulled off during Game 2 -- the pivotal event that helped St. Louis even the series.

Those Redbirds of the '80s ran, ran and ran. That was the age of "Whiteyball" -- Smith, Vince Coleman, Willie McGee and guys who created havoc on the bases for manager Whitey Herzog's club. It remains to be seen whether that was an aberration or whether current skipper Mike Matheny plans to stay aggressive in coming days, but Smith said it made sense.

"It's really what you have to do," Smith said. "Sometimes, you've got to be able to generate runs without necessarily hitting the ball out of the ballpark, and sometimes you've got to be able to score a run without the ball getting out of the infield. Speed is a constant. It's one of those things that can put pressure on the defense, and the only way you can put pressure on a defense is by running or putting the ball in play. They seem to be doing that.

"I think this Cardinals ballclub has three or four more good runs in them. When I say runs, I mean putting hits together. I think at this point, they still have not hit their stride, offensively, so I think that bodes well for them and tomorrow night will be a very, very important game. If they win that game, I think you can start thinking about hopefully not going back to Boston."

Smith and the Cards split the first two games of the 1982 Series, going on to win in seven. They lost in seven in '85 and '87, and in the former, they had won the first two games in Kansas City; while in the latter, they had lost the first two games in Minnesota. Smith said coming back from Boston tied is a big deal for St. Louis.

"When you go on the road and you open a series on the road, your goal is to win one game," Smith said. "They accomplished that goal. Because it's very tough at this stage to be able to dominate a team, where you win two games [on the road], and these two teams are so evenly matched that it makes it tough to call who's going to win. It boils down to execution and who takes advantage when the opportunities present themselves."

As Smith met with children, a nurse told him that someone who could not be there wanted him to sign a poster. It was a newer version of one he signed a decade ago, and he was told that the girl needed a new one. Smith was floored by the circumstances.

"I saw a picture that I took 10 years ago with a kid," Smith said. "I did some things for 'Variety.' They actually used the poster in the airport. She couldn't be here today, so she sent the poster for me to sign. It's always nice to be able to bring a smile to the face of a young kid who otherwise wouldn't have much to smile about.

"We're really excited to have this opportunity and very appreciative of it."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. Read and join other baseball fans on his MLB.com community blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.