Gagne notches great save for charity

Gagne notches great save for charity

HOLLYWOOD -- It was before the Cy Young Award, before "Game Over," back when Eric Gagne was a virtual nobody. The Dodgers requested that he make one of those meet-and-greet public appearances, and who was he to say no?

So he walked into the cancer ward at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA.

"I had never before been confronted with seeing children fighting for their lives," Gagne recalls. "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, and one of the nicest. Just to see that you can put a smile on their faces. It was sort of awkward; you want to ask how they're doing. You know they wouldn't be there if things were OK. It really touched me."

To the point that Gagne and a large group of his Dodgers teammates gave up their night off Monday to make a bunch more of those kids smile.

He hosted the second annual Eric Gagne Dodgers Dream Foundation Bowling Extravaganza. Proceeds from the fundraiser are split between the Dodgers Dream Foundation, which provides educational, athletic and recreational opportunities for the greater Los Angeles community, and Gagne's charity of choice, the Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA.

The event was held at the Lucky Strike Bowl in the Kodak Center in Hollywood, taking advantage of a rare day off at home. In addition to bowling, there was a silent auction of memorabilia and a fundraising raffle of donated prizes.

"Eric's bowling tournament has substantially raised the awareness of the Dodgers Dream Foundation and what we're trying to achieve," said Dodgers senior vice president of public affairs Howard Sunkin. "Just since his tournament last year, we've undertaken six new initiatives with players, and we credit Eric for taking a leadership role in showing how these events can be interwoven with the organization's Dream Foundation program.

"And this year, the player participation has been overwhelming. I think it also shows the camaraderie that exists on this ballclub."

Virtually half of the Dodgers' roster participated -- Sandy Alomar Jr., Jose Cruz Jr., Andre Ethier, Nomar Garciaparra, Tim Hamulack, Kenny Lofton, Derek Lowe, Russell Martin, Jason Repko, Brett Tomko, Jayson Werth and bench coach Dave Jauss.

The celebrity list included Mia Hamm (Garciaparra), Julia Schultz (Tomko), David Arquette, Doug Savant, James Van Der Beek, Tony Todd, Lori Heuring and Carolyn Hughes. The NFL was represented by former quarterback Warren Moon and one of its newest quarterbacks, Matt Leinart -- the USC Heisman Trophy winner recently drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.

They all turned out in support of Gagne, who in turn put it all together in support of those kids.

"I've got three kids, three healthy kids," Gagne said. "Kids are the future. It doesn't take that much effort to bring some of my friends together to do some good and make those kids smile. To this day, I remember the smile on the face of the first girl I saw at the hospital that first day. It's a pretty special feeling for me.

"That day, I realized how good I've got it. I've had a few injuries, but really, I'm very fortunate. That day I realized how sick someone can be. And yet, those kids were more positive about their situation than I was. They enjoyed every minute of it. So I had the idea of putting on this bowling tournament to have fun and raise money. It's fun, it's exciting and it's easy. I hope to be doing this another 10 years."

Five patients of the Mattel Children's Hospital hematology and oncology departments, including one who has put his high school baseball career on hold during treatments, bowled with Gagne and his friends.

"We tell the kids that people help with donations, but when somebody comes in to visit, and they're not from the immediate family or a doctor, it really provides inspiration to the children," said Laila Ramji, a child life specialist at the hospital.

"The first time Eric came in, a lot of kids didn't know who he was, but they knew baseball and they knew the Dodgers. One patient in particular, he had really been down, [but] when Eric walked in, he popped right out of bed. To have someone like Eric provides so much inspiration to our patients."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.