Diamondbacks Host More than 550 Children in 25th Annual Winter Classic

Baxter welcomes Jamie Hemphill and her students from Valencia Elementary School to the 25th annual Winter Classic Presented by University of Phoenix, hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.
(Photo by Evan Thompson)

Diamondbacks Host 25th Annual Winter Classic

The Arizona Diamondbacks hosted more than 550 children from schools across the Valley Monday at Chase Field in the 25th annual Winter Classic, presented by University of Phoenix. Children from the schools, which serve generally low-income families, received new shoes, socks, a backpack, a sweatshirt, a Diamondbacks cap, books, and school supplies.

The event began in December 1998 when Randy Johnson heard there were children who didn’t have a good pair of shoes. This broke his heart, so he called Nike and asked if they could help him get shoes to these children. Nike agreed, and the event was born. “There’s always been a need for young children to be taken care of and feel special all the time, and especially at this time of year,” Johnson said in 2019. “I just started with giving the shoes away, but there are all kinds of activities that have been added along over the years. It’s still a thrill to see a young boy or girl come in and get a pair of shoes and say, ‘Thank you.’ It’s an important time of the year, especially for our young children, to make them feel special, because they are.”

The 2022 Winter Classic

Leo Gilmartin and other volunteers handing out shoes to children.
PHOENIX, Dec 5, 2022 — Leo Gilmartin (left) and other Diamondback volunteers hand out shoes to children at the 25th annual Winter Classic Presented by University of Phoenix, hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. (Photo by Evan Thompson)

Johnson was unable to attend this edition, but some other Diamondbacks, past and present, were. Former left fielder Luis Gonzalez, pitching coach Brent Strom, assistant pitching coach Dan Carlson, assistant hitting coach Drew Hedman, outfielder Pavin Smith, and former closer J.J. Putz were all there. They helped hand out shoes but also visited with the kids and their teachers, posing for pictures and signing autographs upon request.

“This is a fun event for us,” said Gonzalez, a regular attender. “To see the pure excitement and joy and all these kids’ faces when they get their shoes and socks and get to run around here on a big-league field? That’s what it’s all about.” Johnson is also typically there. “Seeing a 6’10” guy handing out shoes to little kids” is something Gonzalez enjoys. He added, “It’s always been fun. We always try to get former guys that played, current DBack players, and all our employees out here as volunteers. A lot of volunteers today from the University of Phoenix are out here. So this is fun for us.”

Brent Strom Attends His First Winter Classic

A pitching station at the 25th annual Winter Classic Presented by the University of Phoenix, hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field
PHOENIX, Dec 5, 2022 — A pitching station at the 25th annual Winter Classic Presented by the University of Phoenix, hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. (Photo by Evan Thompson)

A first-time attendee was Brent Strom, who just finished his first year as Diamondbacks pitching coach. He was more than eager to attend. “I’ve worked with kids my entire life. To see the joy on their face running around — I want to promote this game. It’s a game that I grew up with, and I hope to pass that on to these young kids. So however I can bring a smile to their face — I’m all for it.”

Strom does other events with children in the name of making them happy while promoting the game he loves. “Down in Tucson, I do a few things with kids and run some camps to try and get kids involved in this game. It’s not a game that lends itself to a person individually starting it by themselves like basketball, where you can get a ball and go play by yourself. You have to get a group together. It’s disconcerting sometimes to drive around Tucson and see empty baseball fields that nobody’s using. Unless it’s organized, they seem to stay vacant. Back in the day, they used to be able to grab kids and you just see a field for you to play. If you only had seven people, right field was closed or this and that. It was that kind of game. It’s not that way anymore.”

The Event

The Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary station at the 25th annual Winter Classic Presented by the University of Phoenix, hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field
PHOENIX, Dec 5, 2022 — The Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary station at the 25th annual Winter Classic Presented by the University of Phoenix, hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. (Photo by Evan Thompson)

In addition to the gifts, attendees got to visit several stations across the Chase Field outfield. One was the University of Phoenix Reading Corner and Santa Station. They received a free book here and got to have a picture made with Santa. There was the Baseball Station with Baxter, where they got to hit whiffle balls on a miniature field. Adjacent to this was a spot where they could pitch and see how fast the ball traveled. Pavin Smith and his wife manned this station. Another station was the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary, where attendees could see various reptiles, including two non-venomous snakes and a tortoise. Resolution Copper hosted The Science of Baseball, where attendees saw physics applied to baseball concepts. Rounding out the stations were Dancing with the Be Kind Crew and DBacks Training.

The event is something Gonzalez and others certainly look forward to every year. “This is a special time for us because it’s about giving and for us, to be out here during the holidays, and be able to give back to our community. That’s what’s most special to all of us.”

A tortoise sits on a tarp as part of the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary's station at the 25th annual Winter Classic Presented by the University of Phoenix, hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field
PHOENIX, Dec 5, 2022 — A tortoise sits on a tarp as part of the Phoenix Herpetological Sanctuary’s station at the 25th annual Winter Classic Presented by the University of Phoenix, hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. (Photo by Evan Thompson)

Main Photo credits:

PHOENIX, Dec 5, 2022 — Baxter, the Diamondbacks mascot, welcomes Jamie Hemphill and her students from Valencia Elementary School to the 25th annual Winter Classic Presented by the University of Phoenix, hosted by the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. (Photo by Evan Thompson)

Players and coaches mentioned:

Randy Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, Brent Strom, Dan Carlson, Pavin Smith, J.J. Putz, Drew Hedman

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Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan M. Thompson, Editor-in-chief

Evan is the owner and sole contributor of Thompson Talks, a website discussing the Big Four North American Pro Sports as well as soccer. He also is a credentialed member of the Colorado Rockies press corps. His first and biggest love is baseball.

Evan lives in Gilbert, Arizona and loves history, especially of sports. He is the treasurer for the Hemond Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and also is a USSF and AIA soccer referee. He released his first book, Volume I of A Complete History of the Major League Baseball Playoffs, in October of 2021.

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