Miguel Angel Jimenez is one of the planet’s most recognizable golfers. But when 6-year-old Beaux Waites met him, Beaux didn’t want his autograph.
Just a high five.
Richlyn Carter, a 4-year-old with an impish smile, merely wanted a photo with the Spanish superstar.
Jimenez listened to the requests, smiled, and high-fived both young fans before bending down and posing for pictures.
What brought Jimenez, Beaux and Richlyn together were the ties that bind one of the major tournaments on the PGA TOUR Champions schedule: Children’s of Alabama, the renowned hospital that is the biggest benefactor of the annual Regions Tradition.
Jimenez, the Tradition’s defending champion, returned to Birmingham Monday for Media Day, kicking off coverage for the May 8-12 event, to be held at Greystone Golf & Country Club, by visiting with some of the success stories from Children’s.
Meeting up at Regions Field, home of the Double-A Birmingham Barons, Jimenez eschewed the traditional first pitch for an unorthodox “first chip.” He delivered a golf ball to the Barons’ catcher waiting on him behind home plate on the fly.
“It’s good to be back here for the Regions Tradition,” Jimenez said. “The Regions Tradition is our first major of the year, and we love coming here because (Greystone) is such a nice course and the crowds are terrific.”
Now a kindergartener, Beaux was 6 weeks old when he was diagnosed with critical intestinal issues that required three surgeries. Beaux, who has Down syndrome, still has issues with a compromised immune system, but is otherwise your typically precocious youth.
Shellie Waites, Beaux’s father, watched his son take the field with Jimenez and other former Children’s patients. The fact that the hospital loomed above the right-field wall did not go unnoticed.
“Children’s has always been there for us,” Shellie Waites said. “When we first started going, they were building the stadium and we’d watch construction from there. I remember thinking, ‘How cool will this be?’”
Since opening for the 2013 baseball season, Regions Field has set multiple attendance records for the Barons. Even on a Monday, post-Easter morning, the stadium was packed with school-aged children from near and far.
Richlyn lives with her family in Hartselle, about 90 minutes north of Birmingham. As a baby, she was sent to Children’s after doctors uncovered a malformation that required immediate surgery.
“They had to cut 18 centimeters of her small intestines,” said her father, Clay Carter. “That was a scary time, but she’s been living a normal, healthy life ever since. We still return every year for an annual exam, but that’s it.”
Monday’s day at the ballpark offered Clay Carter a chance to rub elbows with a golfer he’d long idolized, beginning as an amateur on the Northwest Shoals Community College golf team.
“I’m looking forward to going out to the Tradition, because these guys are the legends of the game,” Carter said.
The ties that bind Children’s of Alabama with the Regions Tradition also extend to the downtown baseball venue. During the seventh-inning stretch at Barons home games, fans rise and wave toward Children’s, where patients and families watch the action from windows facing home plate.
The wave is a nod to a longer-standing tradition at the University of Iowa. During Hawkeye home football games, 70,000 fans at Kinnick Stadium – as well as players and coaches from both teams on the field – stand at the end of the first quarter and wave at patients and their families at Stead Family Children’s Hospital.