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MLB.com Columnist

Meggie Zahneis

Reds' Bruce goes to bat for multiple causes

Meggie: Bruce goes to bat for multiple causes

Reds' Bruce goes to bat for multiple causes
Jay Bruce: right fielder, All-Star, philanthropist.

Most Reds fans know all about Bruce's accolades on the field, but they may not know about the good deeds the 25-year-old Texas native does off the field.

Bruce sponsors two charity ticket programs, dubbed Bruce's Battalion and Bruce's Buddies.

Bruce took over the military-family ticket program "Aaron's Aces" after its namesake and sponsor, pitcher Aaron Harang, was traded to the Padres in 2011.

He also is the sponsor of Bruce's Buddies, which benefits kids with special needs and their families.

Both causes are near and dear to Bruce's heart.

"Once I signed my extension, I started to work with [the Reds Community Fund] on giving things back to the community, because I was in a position to do so at the point," Bruce said. "What Aaron did with Aaron's Aces, it was something special. He made it up, he started it and then he left. And so, with me, I felt it was the least I could do to continue it.

"It was a worthwhile program that deserved to keep going. I don't feel like it is a responsibility, but it is my moral obligation, because it is just one small way that I can show my thanks -- and the team's thanks, really -- for what they do for us and our country."

Bruce shows thanks by donating 24 Sun Deck tickets for each Sunday home game, so that current and former members of the military and their families can enjoy the game. Lorrie Platt, the Reds' director of community relations, helps organize both programs from the Reds' end of things.

"I help find the person to actually use the tickets," Platt said. "I work with a local group to fulfill a lot of the ticket dates; they're called AFTA, which stands for Armed Forces Ticket Association. They have been a great partner of the Reds [helping to] find persons that are qualified to go to this game."

Those attending a game receive a military-style camouflage hat and a $10 food and beverage voucher donated by Sportservice, the Reds' concession vendor. Bruce's Battalion is also recognized during a live Jumbotron interview during the game.

"[The ticket program is] just something for them to come out and enjoy the game and to take their mind off of any hardships that they have," Bruce said. "Just to let them enjoy America's pastime ... it's a great family outing."

Pete and Lora Kidnocker agree. The couple was in attendance on Sunday representing their son Jason, 26, who is currently in Afghanistan, and daughter Krystal, 25, who is stationed in Germany. Both offspring are members of the U.S. Air Force.

"We're very appreciative of Jay Bruce, taking over and donating the tickets to military families' members. That really shows he has a big heart," Lora Kidnocker said.

"For Jay Bruce and the Reds organization to pick up the tab to show their appreciation to the military and their families, especially for the families while they're gone, it really helps out. We're very appreciative. It's a great thing he is doing," Pete Kidnocker added.

Bruce's Buddies is the right fielder's other ticket program, inspired by the fact that Bruce has a sister with special needs.

On Saturday, members of the Hamilton County Special Olympics were on hand to watch the game, including 10-year-old Audrey Hobstetter, who has Down syndrome, and 28-year-old Nick Mosley, who deals with developmental disabilities.

"She loves Jay Bruce," Audrey's mother, Lynne Hobstetter, said of her daughter. "It's one of those things where baseball with Jay Bruce has been a very level playing field for Audrey, because anyone with special needs or not can have a special player. And she really loves Jay Bruce. She screams up and down like a crazy person when he makes a home run. And being able to come with his tickets makes her so happy.

"We just appreciate the opportunity to bring Audrey to as many games as possible, and because of her special needs, we do have income issues at times, and an extra game is lovely to be able to come and do."

Hobstetter, Mosley and their fellow Special Olympians received custom-made Bruce's Buddies ballcaps, as well as food and beverage vouchers donated by Sportservice and a group welcome on the Jumbotron.

"With the Reds and how accessible they make everything and how forthcoming and hospitable they are with the families, it makes them want to come out more," Bruce said. "It is just my way of showing appreciation for what the parents do and to really make their child feel some normalcy. There should be no reason why they can't come and enjoy a baseball game just because they have special needs.

"A little bit goes a long way. Honestly, I really didn't do that much. When it comes to big crowds and big events, some people might be held back from fighting the crowd. By making it easier, it makes it a lot more fun coming to a baseball game. Just knowing someone is in your corner, that someone wants you to be there as well."

Bruce said he plans to continue both programs.

"As the years continue to pass, I haven't closed the door on anything," he said. "I am always looking to make things better, in life and in baseball. I am always looking to improve things."

The Kidnockers, Hobstetters, Mosleys and Stenger were all thankful to Bruce, who put on a good show for his special guests on both Saturday and Sunday against the Rockies. Bruce hit an RBI double on Saturday and a solo home run on Sunday.

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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