About 90 minutes before first pitch of Wednesday's game against the Minnesota Twins, Didi Gregorius was nowhere to be seen inside Yankee Stadium.
He wasn't in the clubhouse or the batting cages. He wasn't loosening up on the field.
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Gregorius was not late, and by game time he was in the starting lineup, batting seventh and playing shortstop. But as fans cluttered around the Stadium's gates, Gregorius was outside the Hard Rock Cafe on the corner of 161st street and River Avenue with Carlos Beltran and Luis Severino, collecting school supplies with young students from New Jersey's Southern Boulevard School.StoryProspector Theater provides HOPE for adults with disabilitiesStoryYanks honor son of church shooting victim
"For me, it's just amazing to be here," said Gregorius, wearing his pinstriped baseball pants, a batting practice cap and a gray HOPE Week T-shirt. "It's a chance to give back to the people in need."
The Yankees established HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere and Excel) in 2009 to show fans that anyone has the ability to do charitable work.
Inspired by the Yankees' idea, Southern Boulevard School devoted the week before Thanksgiving last fall to giving back to their community.
Students ranging from kindergarten to third grade participated in projects such as providing weekend snack kits for low-income students who rely on their school for lunch.
To show their appreciation for the Chatham Township-based school's work, the Yankees invited students, teachers and parents to participate in a school supplies drive.
"Our hope," principal Robert Gardella said, "which is shared by the New York Yankees, is that people will see this event and people will want to do the same thing and reach even more families and people in need."
Gregorius, Severino, Beltran and bench coach Rob Thomson met the Southern Boulevard group in the Stadium's news conference room. Before they headed outside to collect school supplies, Beltran took the microphone.
"I just want to say I'm proud of you guys, proud of what you guys did at your school," he said. "Thank you for being able to do what you guys did, and let's have fun doing what we're doing."
With that -- and after a few photo ops -- Beltran, Gregorius and Severino picked up a notebook and headed toward the drive's tent outside Gate 6, as many of the children carried whole boxes of supplies.
Gregorius said the students proudly denied offers to lighten their load.
"It's just amazing," he said, "to see all these kids out here helping out too, the fans handing out books and all the stuff for kids who need it. It's just amazing what everybody's doing for each other to help each other out."