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Kids of all abilities train at Busch Stadium, just like the ballplayers

Kids of all abilities train at Busch Stadium, just like the ballplayers

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Most kids don’t get the opportunity to practice like a real Cardinals baseball player with real Cardinals trainers. But a lucky few got that chance Tuesday at Busch Stadium.

Cards trainers were on hand for the event as part of the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society, which created the “PLAY” campaign — Promoting a Lifetime of Activity for Youth — to raise awareness for children’s health issues and disability inclusion.

The campaign has held more than 350 events in all 30 major league ballparks to promote healthy lifestyles.

Bret Hammond, a 17-year-old from St. Charles, said it was his first time to train on the field even though he’s attended many Cardinals events over the years.

Bret has Down syndrome, and his father, Jim Hammond, said he was excited to see Bret practice with kids from outside the disabled community. Participants were invited from both the Cardinals Kids Club and the Down Syndrome Association of Greater St. Louis.

“He’s been fortunate enough to come on the field with Special Olympics, but this event is unique,” Hammond said. “People get to see that he’s more alike than different.”

“I feel perfect,” Bret said as he took the field.

The youths rotated through three different stations, under the watchful eye of Cardinals trainers Adam Olsen and Chris Conroy and Cardinals infielder Tommy Edman.

Olsen put each kid at home plate to practice their best swing — without actually holding a bat. Then they ran the bases.

At the other stations led by Edman and Conroy, the children visited the underground batting cages and worked on their stretches.

After getting the chance to feel like a real player on the field, kids and parents sat down for talks from Edman and from Brian Parker, who works for the Taylor Hooton Foundation. Parker spoke about the danger of performance-enhancing drugs.

Edman answered questions from the kids, including favorite color — Cardinal red, of course.

As the event wrapped up, the children crowded around Edman for autographs. Bret got the infielder’s signature on his Cardinals cap and his Cardinals T-shirt (both picturing Bret’s favorite player, Albert Pujols).

Bret’s only complaint on the day? “I wish the Cardinals were playing better,” he said.

When Grace Strobel was born 21 years ago, the medical experts told her parents she would never read or write. Not only does she read, and write, she models. She gives presentations on life with Down syndrome. And she volunteers with preschoolers and kindergarteners.

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