Whether it was offering advice to a youngster about to make his first trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, signing a fan’s baseball glove, or simply taking a stroll with a patient through the halls of Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital — it’s safe to say that Shane Bieber made a lasting impact.
Wearing his new team’s bright red jersey, the former Gaucho and current Cleveland Indians starting pitcher made his second annual trip to the local hospital Saturday afternoon. Santa Barbara still holds a special place in the heart of the Southern California kid. A short distance away from the campus where he grew up and began to discover himself, Mr. Bieber selflessly posed for countless pictures and shared secrets about his lethal curveball – all with one thing in mind.
“To be able to hopefully take their minds off what they’re going through just a little bit is really the goal,” he said.
“I feel like community outreach is big for a lot of people and athletes, but I think it’s even more important in a community that means a little bit more to you,” Mr. Bieber explained. “You can do a lot for somebody when you may not think it’s that much, but it means the world to them.”
As he entered the hospital’s pediatrics unit, Mr. Bieber was greeted by Charlie Le Renard, the 10-year-old son of Dr. Christophe Le Renard, who was anxious to have a catch with the big leaguer. After the two tossed the ball around, Charlie had Mr. Bieber sign several baseball cards, an Indians towel and even his baseball glove.
“It’s amazing,” Dr. Le Renard told the News-Press. “It’s memorable. He’ll have pictures and autographs for a lifetime. It’s really nice of him to do that – especially to spend some time and talk to him.”
Charlie was gushing with joy as he examined Mr. Bieber’s signature. He missed the pitcher’s trip to the hospital a year ago and was excited to get the chance to meet him this time around.
“It was more than what I thought it was going to be,” Charlie said.
As Mr. Bieber made his way down the hall, it was then Aaden Salazar’s chance to show the Cy Young finalist his fastball. The 12-year-old joked that he never envisioned playing catch with a pro while having an IV in his arm, but nonetheless he and his family were able to spend a few minutes with the right hander. Aaden not only got a signed baseball to add to his shelf at home, but also had Mr. Bieber sign his tennis shoes – “just so I can show my friends and I have proof,” Aaden joked.
“It’s awesome seeing that smile,” said his father, Mario. “It’s been a while since we saw that smile.
“It just helps pick up his spirits a little bit and get his mind off what’s going on.”
Aaden will soon be visiting Cooperstown Dream Park and hopes he’ll have the chance to take the mound just like Mr. Bieber did years ago.
“I think the fact that Shane has taken an opportunity to give back to the community makes a huge difference for everybody involved,” said Jaynie Wood, certified child life specialist for the hospital’s Children’s Services Department. “He’s giving back and he’s paying it forward in a way that people don’t realize. It matters the most to the people here, because it shows that he cares enough and he takes the time and gives forward an energy that shows he cares about every single individual far more than himself – and that makes the magic happen.”
Ms. Wood knew when Mr. Bieber visited a year ago that he would make it a point to return again. When he made his visit in 2018, Mr. Bieber was talking with a patient who was just about to go into surgery. Mr. Bieber walked with the patient down to the operating room when all of the media cameras had gone away.
“It showed me the depth that Shane had to the community and the connection to his involvement,” Ms. Wood said. “I think it showed me that it wasn’t about him – it was about what he was giving forward.”
While Mr. Bieber was able to create memories for others on Saturday, what he was able to accomplish in the middle of the diamond over the summer was something he won’t soon forget. He was named the 2019 All-Star Game MVP after he struck out all three batters he faced in the mid-summer classic hosted by his home team.
“That’s something you dream of,” he said. “I didn’t really know what was going on or what would happen. I was just trying to get three outs.
“(The fans) were chanting my name and I just felt the energy and connection with them. That was extremely special to me.”
The 24-year-old won 15 games for Cleveland last season and finished fifth in the American League Cy Young voting. He fondly recalls a late-season trip to Anaheim just 20 minutes from where he grew up in Laguna Hills. Dozens of Gauchos showed their support for Mr. Bieber, who limited the Angels to one run in seven innings. He retired 17 of his final 18 batters and was serenaded with cheers before taking a curtain call after he exited the game.
“That’s just another testament to what kind of community that we have here,” Mr. Bieber said.
The Orange County kid now calls Santa Barbara County home, as he lives in Goleta during the offseason.
“It’s just an incredible place,” he said. “I feel like I’ve grown roots here and it’s given a lot to me and now I’m just trying to give back.
“Even if you just make a small impact on somebody’s day or their week or their month or their year – that’s always what I wanted to try and do.”