My son and I had the pleasure several weeks ago, thanks to the generosity of my friend Mike Taylor from PBS SoCal, to play ball at Angel Stadium of Anaheim with the one-and-only former Angel (and baseball ambassador extraordinaire) Rex Hudler.
With his trademark high energy and positive view of life and his faith, Hudler gave both the 15 or so kids and us parents a wonderful pep talk before letting us roam the park for the day, hitting, fielding and soaking in all that big league atmosphere just a day after Albert Pujols was introduced to the city.
During the afternoon, I met the "Wonder Dog's" wife, Jennifer, who told me about a special event she and her family are having here in Huntington Beach. Rex heard us talking and came over to explain more about the event with an exuberant order to "get all of your readers down there, you hear!?"
As Jennifer explained to me, it promises to be something special. On Feb. 3, the Hudlers' Team Up For Down Syndrome foundation and the International Surfing Museum are hosting an inaugural event: Surf's Up For Down Syndrome.
It will take place at Sandy's Beach Grill on the sand by the Huntington Beach pier, starting with afternoon beach and surfing activities involving youths with Down syndrome (who will get to interact with surfing and baseball personalities). The event continues with a cocktail hour, dinner, silent and live auctions and live surf music featuring the Chantays.
"After our son, Cade, was born with Down syndrome in 1996, we soon got involved helping other families cope with some of the challenges involved," Jennifer said. "But as we learned soon after ourselves, it is a true blessing having a child with Down syndrome in that it has taught us life lessons we never would have learned."
For years, the Hudlers' generosity and focus have helped many families get information, resources and more on behalf of their Down syndrome children. Recently, the Hudlers got to talking with the folks at the International Surfing Museum, brainstorming together on how they might bring their two communities together to raise awareness and funds. And so the event was born.
This being the museum's 25th anniversary, they've planned a host of special events throughout the year (which I will cover in further columns), and Surf's Up For Down Syndrome is bound to be one of their most popular.
The day of the event, surfing legends including Lisa Andersen and Danny Nichols will provide surfing lessons to more than a dozen Down syndrome young adults (including Cade Hudler). If you purchase a ticket to the event, you're free to watch the activities before returning to Sandy's for a cocktail hour, dinner and silent auction that will include generous local offerings from Duke's and many other places, and of course, lots of sports memorabilia.
Local Angels catcher Hank Conger will be at the event along with former Angels Mark Langston, Justin Speier and Hudler himself, so it will also be a great place to collect some autographs in the name of a good cause.
As Jennifer explained, Team Up For Down Syndrome is an organization dedicated to helping improve the lives of individuals and their families living with Down syndrome. Their goal is to raise the public's awareness, both locally and nationally, of the positive contributions that individuals with Down syndrome make in our society, while also helping to strengthen and empower those with Down syndrome to help them and their families reach their full potential. Proceeds from this event will benefit housing, health, education, job training, family counseling and other worthwhile causes.
Personally, the Hudlers have donated computers, sponsored a baseball field and contributed lots of money over the years to help this cause. And as Jennifer said, her famously enthusiastic husband jumps out of bed each morning thinking of new ways to help.
"He's dedicated himself to this fully," she said. "Our whole family has."
For tickets to the event and to find out how to donate items or become a sponsor, visit http://www.teamupfordownsyndrome.org. You'll see an invite there where you can RSVP.
This is a terrific cause put on by some equally wonderful people — I hope you can attend.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at email@example.com.