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07/29/11 4:40 PM ET

HOPE Week reunites childhood pals

It had been 14 years since they'd seen each other, so it's no wonder it took a moment for childhood friends John Lahutsky, 19, and Andrei Sullivan, 17, to recognize each other Friday inside the studios of "The Today Show" in New York City.

The two teenagers, both of whom have cerebral palsy, grew up together in a horrifically mismanaged orphanage in Moscow, but had not seen each other since John was adopted by the Lahutsky family of Bethlehem Township, Pa., in 1997.

So when Sullivan, who was adopted by a family in Michigan in 1997, was reunited with Lahutsky as part of the Yankees' Help Others Persevere and Excel (HOPE) Week, he almost couldn't believe it.

"I was speechless," Sullivan said. "At first, I kind of had to take a double-look because he had his hat on, and I was like, 'Is this really him?'"

At the orphanage, known as "Baby House 10," Lahutsky was not allowed out of the facility from when he was placed there 18 months after he was born until he was 5 years old. Worse, he was not given an education nor physical therapy to help him work through his disability.

Still, he managed to learn to speak from a few kindly nurses and taught Russian to Andrei, whom he looked out for until he was adopted and brought to the United States. The two began speaking again over the phone after Lahutsky co-wrote a book about his experiences in 2009. The book is entitled "The Boy from Baby House 10: From the Nightmare of a Russian Orphanage to a New Life in America."

"I'm so happy to be with my friend Andrei," Lahutsky said. "I'm just amazed that this happened, I didn't even know that this was set up."

A member of the Lehigh Valley Yankee Fan Club, Lahutsky was nominated by the group's president, Chuck Frantz, for HOPE Week consideration. When the Yankees heard his story, the team asked HOPE Week partner Delta Air Lines to provide complimentary airfare for the entire Sullivan family to set up the reunion.

The Sullivans didn't tell Andrei where they were going, only that they had gotten a really great deal on a family vacation. After arriving in New York City, Andrei's parents told him they were touring "The Today Show" studios but did not inform him of the reunion.

"I'd been hoping [to see Lahutsky again], but I never knew it would be this elaborate," Sullivan said. "I just thought it would be a simple meeting, just getting together at some halfway point."

The elaborate setup did not end there. After the tour, the two families and Frantz were escorted by Yankees manager Joe Girardi on a horse-drawn carriage ride to the Central Park Zoo. There, they were met by first baseman Mark Teixeira and outfielder Brett Gardner, as well as coaches Kevin Long and Larry Rothschild.

The players and HOPE Week honorees then fed the sea lions together and ate lunch before heading to Yankee Stadium for a night game against the Baltimore Orioles.

Before the game, Andrei and John will watch batting practice from the field, deliver the lineup cards and throw out ceremonial first pitches. In the event of a Yankees victory, they will be invited on the field to celebrate with the team after the game.

"It's such a great story, and to see two friends and what they went through, it's really inspiring for us," Teixeira said. "These guys deserve to have a day like this, and we're just happy to be a part of it."

Aaron Taube is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.