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11/26/08 4:00 PM EST

Cardinals Care focuses on helping kids

Programs provide opportunities for thousands of area children

ST. LOUIS -- Talk of charitable organizations often comes down to cold, hard numbers -- especially dollars. How much did you raise? How much did you distribute?

Michael Hall, the Cardinals' recently promoted vice president of Cardinals Care and community relations, doesn't want you to think about numbers when you think about Cardinals Care, though. He wants you to think about kids. That's what Cardinals Care focuses on.

Through its Redbird Rookies program, Cardinals Care provides opportunities for about 4,000 kids in greater St. Louis. Through the Fredbird "Doin' It Right" program, the club will reach kids at about 100 schools in the area this year. And, yes, there's the money -- Cardinals Care benefited 105 local kids organizations with $343,958 in cash grants awarded in August.

But the beneficiaries, rather than the numbers, are the key. Especially when it comes to Redbird Rookies, a comprehensive program that starts on the baseball field and extends into numerous areas of life.

"It is a way for us to have kids play baseball free of charge," Hall acknowledged. "But we have 21 leagues, so we're in 21 communities. We have 4,000 kids that are involved. And outside of just baseball, there are a lot of great things that are done off the field -- education, health, mentoring and cultural arts. We're really not so much focused on the competition of baseball, but the life skills that baseball can teach."

Baseball is the draw. But it's the beginning, not the end.

"For health, for instance, we put on fairs," Hall said. "They're health fairs where we partner with different entities. We do vision screenings. We do hearing screenings. We do safety [presentations]. We have the kids fitted for bicycle helmets."

By helping the kids in numerous different parts of their lives, Cardinals Care hopes to make their lives as a whole better. It partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters to do mentoring, and even provides cultural opportunities -- like a jazz concert for the kids this past year.

"We try to teach them other things and expose them to other things that they may not have the privilege to be a part of outside of this," Hall said.

While Redbird Rookies is the biggest umbrella, though, it's not the only one. Through its community relations division, the club uses the Fredbird program to reach plenty more kids.

Fredbird, the team's popular mascot, is joined by a Cardinals alumnus at each school visit. The message is a simple and positive one: stay in school, play sports and stay off drugs. The program visited about 100 schools in 2008, with a goal of 120 in 2009.

And then there's the face of Cardinals Care that the most fans see: the annual Winter Warm-Up. The organization's fundraiser is also the team's fan fest, and it's a huge success every year. The 2008 Warm-Up raised more than $800,000, allowing Cardinals Care to hold all those programs to help all those kids.

It's once again set for the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 2009, and once again scheduled to take place at the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis. This year's Warm-Up will have an All-Star Game theme, due to the approaching All-Star Game at Busch Stadium next July.

It will be another chance to raise money. But just as important, a chance to raise awareness of what Cardinals Care does and who it benefits. And that's the key.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.