I love talking to former Major League ballplayer and Angels' broadcaster Rex Hudler. "The Wonder Dog" as he is known, just always exudes so much enthusiasm and feel-good energy. He's energetic, spiritual, and seems to spend every waking moment trying to make a positive difference in this world.
Hudler, who now does color commentary for the Kansas City Royals, will be back here in Huntington Beach this weekend for the second annual "Surf's Up for Down Syndrome" Event on Saturday.
As you might recall from when I wrote about this last year, Team Up For Down Syndrome, a nonprofit organization, was created in honor of Rex and Jennifer Hudler's son, Cade, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome 16 years ago. Although there have been challenges, Cade has inspired them to help raise awareness of the positive contributions that individuals with Down syndrome make in our society, while helping them reach their full potential.
This year, the Hudlers have teamed up with the Huntington Beach Junior Lifeguards (celebrating their 50 anniversary) to present a full day of free fun at the beach followed what promises to be a very special evening event at the Waterfront Hilton.
I don't call it "Down" syndrome, I call it "Up syndrome," the ever-upbeat Hudler told me. "And Up syndrome people have an important place in society. They're a huge asset to companies every day, and the unconditional love they show is something people don't get to see every day. I'm so blessed. I see it every day when I pick Cade up at school and he throws his hands open to say, "Dad, school was this great today! I learned this much today!" Cade is just a huge blessing in our lives."
This event kicks off with morning beach and surfing activities involving youths with Down syndrome who will interact with surfing and baseball personalities and legends, and be assisted by Junior Lifeguards. Surfing personalities who will participate include four-time world champion Lisa Andersen, local pro Danny Nichols, champion Jericho Poppler, and local hero David Nuuhiwa. Many Angel's baseball greats, current and past, are also expected to be in attendance (including Huntington Beach's own, Hank Conger).
The morning surfing and beach activities are free. The evening event at the Waterfront includes a cocktail hour with ukulele music from Shirley Orlando's ukulele ensemble, dinner, and silent and live auction that feature surfing and baseball memorabilia, as well as one-of-a kind beach, sport, and entertainment experiences.
Celebrity contributors include Angel's players Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, and surf filmmaker Timmy Turner (and there will no doubt be many of Rex's baseball buddies in attendance like last year). Valet parking is complimentary and tickets for this event are $125 per person.
Based on the success of last year's event, Hudler cannot wait to come back to town. "Last year was just life-changing. It's a thrill of a lifetime for kids with Up syndrome to get up on boards and experience the surf. It just brings such joy to their faces as they catch that very first wave. Cade has been waking up every morning in the heartland where we live now in Kansas City saying 'Surf's up, Dad!' He's as excited as I am. And this year, to be able to work with the amazing Junior Guards in Huntington Beach is an honor. And of course we'll be helping their charity, The Friends of the Huntington Beach City Junior Lifeguards, and many other organizations, too. There a ton of good will, lots of great sponsors involved and every year we want to come back to Huntington Beach and do as much as we can for as many charities."
On a side note, I asked Rex what he felt about the announcement the day before that no players will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year.
"I'm just so disappointed that they can't get this issue put away," he said, seriously. "There are guys I played with, like Lee Smith and Tim Raines and I think it's a travesty that they are not voted in. It's a tough thing that guys are getting punished for something that wasn't even against the rules back then. And it's a sad day for all baseball fans when nobody gets into the hall, regardless of what you think about the issues."
Shifting gears then, Hudler reiterated once more that he'd love to see every single one of you this weekend, either at the beach or at the Waterfront Hilton, to revel in the love and thrill of watching young people with "Up syndrome" have a magical, life-affirming day.
And trust me, he means it.
To purchase tickets to the evening event, visit http://www.teamupfordownsyndrome.org or call (714) 665-8326.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter: @chriseptingor follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun