MLB gives All-Star Week gift to St. Albans Veterans hospital

By Rich Bockmann

America’s pastime paid tribute to those who served in the name of Old Glory when Major League Baseball unveiled a renovated outdoor space at the Veterans Affairs hospital in St. Albans earlier this week.

Volunteers with Rebuilding Together NYC put the finishing touches on the landscaped area Monday afternoon on the eve of the league’s All-Star game at Citi Field.

“Every year it is an important tradition for Major League Baseball to give back in a meaningful way to the community that supports the mid-summer classic,” said MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. “Our goal is to leave a lasting and enduring legacy in the New York community by supporting unique community projects that make a difference in people’s lives, like St. Albans community living center.”

Selig said the league has invested more than $57 million in communities since 1997 and will spread more than $5 million around the New York area this year.

The VA hospital space that is lush with new plantings, a strolling walkway, benches and a gazebo was once nothing more than a dirt patch with a few shrubs, and veteran Anthony Soto said it will give the hospital’s residents a place to go.

“Major League Baseball really stepped up and gave us a place where we can really enjoy ourselves,” said the U.S. Marine Corps vet. “It’s giving a lot of veterans a great opportunity to get outdoors.”

New York Mets Chairman Fred Wilpon co-founded the charity group Welcome Back Veterans five years ago, with the intent of bringing medical issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder to the forefront through private/public partnerships with the VA.

“One goal was to create an awareness around this country that there’s 99 percent and 1 percent serving and we have to understand more about the 1 percent,” he said. “We’re pushing very hard so that someday all through this country you’ll be able to get the same treatment, as a veteran, for mental health issues as you do for physical issues, the same as you do for cancer care or heart disease.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city’s more than 200,000 veterans deserve something to cheer about, and he said All-Star week means something to the city, too.

“Most of what it does is it gives us pride, the people living here,” he said. “We have a chance to share in a great American institution.”

And just in case you thought the billionaire mayor was getting too sentimental, he also pointed out that the week’s slate of events was expected to generate more than $190 million in revenue for city businesses.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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