Nearly a dozen children gathered near the fireplace at the cozy Children's Inn at NIH in Bethesda to hear John Lannan read "Casey at the Bat" on Thursday afternoon.
It was Lannan's first visit to the Children's Inn, a residential "place like home" for sick children and their families seeking treatment at NIH.
But Thursday's visit wasn't about treatment or discussing hardship. It was an afternoon escape from the routine, complete with a special visit from two big league baseball players.
"I've been wanting to come here all season," Lannan said. "I'm glad I got a chance to come here and to meet all of these kids."
First, Lannan presented the Children's Inn with a check for $7,500, as the beneficiary of his recent Roberto Clemente Award for community service.
He then gathered with the children and his teammate, Craig Stammen, to read the timeless Casey at the Bat. Stammen and Lannan then led the children outside to play catch.
"It's really nice because this is an opportunity Brady wouldn't get," said Tammy, the mother of Brady, a young boy seeking treatment at NIH. "He loved it. He loves baseball. He watches baseball all the time. He doesn't even know that he's missing anything at home because he's having so much fun."
Tammy traveled with her husband Chris all the way from Toronto for NIH's facilities and the Children's Inn.
"They take away every worry that you have. Everything that you could possibly worry about -- transportation, food, all the little stuff that you have to do -- you don't have to worry about that here," said Brady's father, Chris.
After the game of catch, Lannan and Stammen toured the facility, which includes an exercise room, art and music therapy rooms, a theater stage and a cozy fireplace lounge all designed to provide comfort and peace for the families and children away from home.
Since opening in June of 1990, The Children's Inn at NIH has served over 10,000 seriously ill children suffering from cancer, heart, lung, blood, bone and growth disorders, mental illnesses, and HIV infection.
After the tour, the pitchers were the guests of honor at a big Halloween party at the NIH hospital. After greeting the kids and talking with families at the party, Lannan and Stammen were "mummified" with toiled paper by the kids, who bounced around the party laughing and bragging about their work on the players.
"It's a good opportunity to put some smiles on some kids' faces," said Craig Stammen. "We have a tremendous blessing that we get to play big league baseball. It's good to come out here and do things like this and give back to the community a little bit.
In August, John Lannan launched his Lannan's Cannons program in partnership with the Children's Inn. The program allowed the kids and their families to come out to Nationals Park to enjoy a day of baseball complete with a food voucher and Lannan's Cannons t-shirt.
"In a couple years, I'd like to be a leader on the field but as far as off the field, I just want to show the younger or newer guys that come up that it's not a pain to do these kinds of things," Lannan said, increasingly aware of his own leadership skills. "It's actually fun.
You get the chance to meet young kids and you get the chance to meet families in different areas and all walks of life. So, it's really cool."
Lannan is also a Sports Ambassador for The Children's Inn, helping to bring awareness and funds to support their $93-a-night campaign, which refers to the cost of housing families at the residence.
"This keeps you humbled and it keeps you grounded. I feel really grateful for being in the place I am at," Lannan said.