Former Cardinals reliever and current team broadcaster Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky and Fredbird presented the Cardinals Care "Doin' It Right" program.
Joe Cunningham, who was affiliated with the Cardinals front office for years and was Hrabosky's first Minor League manager, started the program about 15 years ago, Hrabosky recalled.
Initially the purpose of the program was to try and introduce the Cardinals to young kids. Cunningham ran the program with an FBI agent in St. Louis who encouraged Cunningham to incorporate a drug-free message in the program, Hrabosky said.
About five years ago when Cunningham was in semi-retirement, he worried no one would deliver the message if he retired. That's when Hrabosky stepped in.
"He was kind of a mentor and my first Minor League manager so I told him, 'Joe I've seen you do it, and I believe in it and I'll learn the message. I'll start doing it.'"
Hrabosky continued: "It makes sense to me because kids don't know me as a ballplayer, and hopefully the kids will see me on the TV, and it reinforces the message, "Oh that's the guy that came with Fredbird to our school."
On Monday, Hrabosky and Fredbird delivered a three-pronged message of: Stay in school! Say no to drugs! Participate in Sports! The 50-minute program included a video presentation and recorded Cardinal messages from Bo Hart, Scott Rolen, Tony LaRussa, Ozzie Smith and others.
"The kids give a great reaction," Hrabosky noted. "They love Fredbird. We have fun doing it, too, and I think that comes across to teachers-- that we're trying to help the kids," Scott County Elementary Principal Lori Scheeter admitted she wasn't sure if Cardinals Care could travel this far when she first inquired about the program.
"I'm a huge Cardinal fan so one day I just went to their Web site and found the program," Scheeter recalled. "I filled out an application and sent it in. Then one day, they called me."
Hrabosky said he and Fredbird have traveled to Branson and into Illinois. They've even gone to spring training in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"To be quite honest, sometimes the kids in St. Louis see the players so many times, where in these areas, it's really great because they don't see the players and it's new to them and they appreciate it," Hrabosky said.
Designed for grades K-8, the interactive assembly encourages students to participate and gives all kids the chance to win prizes. Every student received a free ticket to a baseball game and a poster featuring several Cardinals players.
Cardinal pitcher Andy Benes began presenting the program this year, Hrabosky noted.
"This is the best Say No drug-free program I've ever seen because of the atmosphere presented to the kids," said third grade teacher Alisha Lacy, who has taught for eight years. "It's funny, exciting and the kids wanted to hear what he had to say."
Throughout the program, Hrabosky and Fredbird reinforced their message of "Stay in school. Say no to drugs.
Participate in sports." Lacy said the repetition sticks with the kids and that's the key to teaching them.
At one point, Hrabosky asked student Aaron Smith why drugs were bad, Smith replied: "It can give you cancer. It can hurt people. It can destroy family relationships," and then politely, he said, "Get the bird off of me," referring to Fredbird, who was playfully teasing him.
While kids laughed at the goofy antics of Fredbird, all things were serious when Hrabosky spoke on a personal level. He told the students about a former teammate who played for both Kansas City and St. Louis.
Hrabosky spoke of how none of the players knew their teammate was using cocaine. The player eventually realized the drug was starting to take over his mind and body, and he went into rehab, Hrabosky said.
"For 22 years he stayed away from cocaine," Hrabosky said. "Last spring, I don't know why, but he started using cocaine again. Last summer, I went to his funeral. He's dead."
He continued to the students: "Don't think that you can try to use drugs one time. It gets in your system and it never really leaves your system. Don't ever get started and don't ever get involved in drugs, all right?"
Scheeter said she hoped the students get the message of whether famous or an athlete, a healthy body and education are the keys to success.
"It's nice to know you have a celebrity here, but it's also nice to know why they're here, too," Scheeter said.
What the program tries to do is come back (to schools) in three or four years and then the message stays fresh, Hrabosky said, adding that they get a good response wherever they go.
Hrabosky said: "Hopefully you're sending three good messages, but you're trying to build goodwill -- plus make some future Cardinal fans."
Visit the community section of the official St. Louis Cardinals Web site at www. stlcardinals.com for more information on Cardinals Care.