KANSAS CITY, Mo. — James Shields hefted a youngster who couldn’t have been more than a couple years old onto the right shoulder that has made him so much money during his major league career.
They both wore smiles on their faces.
For the ace of the Kansas City Royals, it was a moment of levity during the stress that comes with a 162-game grind — a chance to pose for pictures, sign a few autographs and raise awareness for the role that foster programs play in the lives of America’s youth.
For the kid on his shoulder? It was a chance to simply be a kid.
Shields, who has long supported foster care organizations, was joined by Kansas basketball coach Bill Self on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium to record a public service announcement to raise awareness for such programs before the Royals’ scheduled game against the Cleveland Indians.
“The main thing is hopefully we can find some good families for these kids, and create some good memories for them,” Shields said. “I mean, a lot of the memories they have aren’t very good, so if we can create some good ones, that’s all that really matters to us.”
Many professional athletes have causes that they hold close to their hearts. Shields became linked to foster children when he broke into the majors with the Tampa Bay Rays and was asked to film a PSA not unlike the one he filmed Wednesday night for The Heart Gallery, a traveling audio and photographic exhibit that aims to increase the number of adoptive families.
Shields chose to continue working with foster children when he was traded to the Royals this past offseason, even lending his name to the “Big Game James Section” for five games.
Over the course of the season, Shields will have hosted about 250 foster children and their families in the reserved section, meeting with them before games and providing T-shirts, a meal and a backpack that includes everything from coloring books to a baseball.
“It’s a great cause, man. It’s the least that we can do as people that are looked up to,” Shields said, “and it’s awesome he got to come out and do this with me.”
Coincidentally, foster programs have been a cause close to Self for years.
The Jayhawks’ basketball coach serves on the board of KVC Health Systems, a nonprofit that provides health care, social services and education to children and families.
One of KVC’s priorities is to recruit, train and license foster families.
“I know that James is really involved and has a sincere interest in providing opportunities for kids and helping to spearhead those opportunities through foster care,” said Self, who taped a PSA with Kansas women’s basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson that is often aired on the radio.
“I’m happy to be a part of it,” Self said.
Self is no stranger to Kauffman Stadium — he participated in the celebrity game during the All-Star festivities hosted by the Royals last summer. Self added that in high school he was “a below average shortstop that could put the bat on the ball pretty good.”
“People take for granted because they’re around it all the time, but being in a big league ballpark and being down on the field is what kids dream of,” Self said while sitting on a bench in the Royals’ dugout. “I still get chills.”
While Self has some background on the diamond, the hardwood is mostly foreign to Shields.
“I didn’t really play basketball growing up, but there’s no doubt, March Madness, I’m in there,” he said. “I didn’t go to college, so I’m not a big college guy. Whatever team I pick in the brackets, I’m good to go. But I tell you what, ever since I’ve been here, I’ve been watching KU and they run a really nice program over there.”