NEW YORK -- The Yankees gave Megan Ajello a wonderful surprise to begin her day on Thursday, and she helped return the favor by kicking off the team's afternoon on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
Using her motorized wheelchair, the 17-year-old drove the ceremonial first pitch from the mound to home plate, drawing a cheer from the crowd as the baseball was delivered to Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli.
Ajello was honored on Thursday with a special visit by the team to her Staten Island lemonade stand as part of the Yankees' HOPE (Helping Others Persevere and Excel) Week.
She also helped first-base coach Mick Kelleher deliver the lineup card to the umpiring crew at home plate before Saturday's doubleheader, shaking hands with umpires Tim Welke, Mike Estabrook, Jim Reynolds and Mike DiMuro, before announcing, "Play ball," over the stadium's PA system.
Ajello suffers from cerebral palsy and scoliosis, fighting through six major surgeries, including a spinal fusion. Though bound to a wheelchair, Megan's disabilities have not prevented her from putting together a charity lemonade stand with her family every year since 2006.
"It's so easy to get caught up in the monotony and the urgency that we feel, but in reality, what's more important than this?" Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Thursday at Ajello's home. "People have real needs that are daily challenges. Not necessarily whether we get a trade done or whether we get our next hit or how we match up against an opposing team. This is real-life stuff."
This year, Ajello had hoped to raise $5,000 for Special Olympics; with the support of the Yankees' visit, Ajello was able to make an $11,000 donation to the charity.
The Yankees Foundation also donated an additional $5,000, as well as $5,000 to Ajello's school, the Seton Foundation for Learning in Grasmere, N.Y.
Yankees carpenters also constructed a new lemonade stand for Ajello, who received President Barack Obama's Volunteer Service Award in recognition of her efforts for charity.
"It gives her a sense of pride that she's able to do certain things herself and get all these people to come here that she knows and that are concerned for her," Megan's father, Daniel, said of the lemonade stand. "It's nice to see a lot of the people that you don't get to see as much, and kind of make them aware of what kids like Megan can motivate people to do."
Ajello's experiences were just one of five remarkable stories brought to light by HOPE Week, initiated in 2009 and rooted in the fundamental belief that acts of goodwill provide hope and encouragement to more than just the recipient of the gesture.
Girardi prepared for no deals as Deadline nears
NEW YORK -- As the Yankees continue to monitor the pitching market approaching the Trade Deadline, manager Joe Girardi seems prepared to pursue a championship with the group that he has.
The Yankees would love to add another arm in the rotation or the bullpen before 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, but nothing appears imminent, and Girardi offered a vote of confidence for his club as currently comprised.
"We've gotten to where we are with the guys in this room; that's the bottom line," Girardi said. "No, we're not in first place, but I believe we have the second-best record in the American League, and one of the better records in baseball."
New York entered play on Saturday 19 games over .500 at 61-42, 2 1/2 games behind the Red Sox for the AL East lead. Only Boston (64-40, .615) and the Phillies (66-39, .629) had higher winning percentages than the Bombers' .592.
They have shown some level of interest in the cast of starting pitchers being bandied about, including the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez, the Dodgers' Hiroki Kuroda and the Astros' Wandy Rodriguez, but general manager Brian Cashman has been publicly pessimistic of a deal being struck, not interested in parting with several high-level prospects.
Instead, Cashman has said that the Yankees will be hard-pressed to improve upon the additions they have made recently from their own disabled list. New York has restored Bartolo Colon, Phil Hughes, Eric Chavez and Rafael Soriano to the active roster, with Alex Rodriguez expected to be a couple of weeks behind them.
"This team has played very well with the guys that we have in this room," Girardi said. "Have we gotten big contributions from players we didn't necessarily expect? Yes, we have. But as far as trades, as I always talk about, my job is to manage the guys in that room and get the best out of them. And there's a lot of talent in that room."
Girardi said that he has been impressed by the resilience of the bullpen, which lost key contributors in Joba Chamberlain -- out for the year following Tommy John surgery -- as well as Soriano for two months, but has filled in without skipping much of a beat.
"The big thing for this club is staying healthy," Girardi said. "We've had some injuries that we've had to deal with, and we've lost a lot of guys in our bullpen. Guys have stepped up. If guys keep stepping up like they've been, we should be OK."