Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte surprised many when returned to baseball in March. The 39-year-old had five World Series rings, 240 wins, 2,251 strikeouts and three All-Star appearances on the day he announced his comeback. There was nothing left for him to accomplish.

Actually, there was. He had never inspired a blind 5-year-old boy to play baseball.

Obviously that wasn't Pettitte's intent, but the Times of Trenton in New Jersey has a wonderful story of how this happened.

Pettitte made a rehab start for the Yankees' Double-AA affiliate in Trenton on April 25. Andy Fass of Hamilton Township, N.J., attended that Trenton Thunder game with his family. As he walked in from warm-ups, Pettitte handed a ball to Fass, who is legally blind from oculocutaneous albinism, a condition with which he was diagnosed when he was 4 months old.

Fass needed to be told he was holding a baseball.

After the game, a family friend stuck around and was able to get Pettitte to sign the ball. Fass now owned property much of New York City would die for. And his baseball obsession was just beginning.

Jill Fass, Andy's mother, sent a message to the Thunder thanking the team for the surprising night. Some Thunder season-ticket holders had provided the Fasses with the first-row seats. (Katie, Andy's 7-year-old sister, was being honored at the game for an academic achievement.)

The Thunder public relations department enjoyed Andy's story enough to forward Jill's message to the Yankees. Soon after, two Yankee caps arrived at the Fass' door.

More good news followed. Fass' gymnastics coach gave him two tickets to a Yankees game. The game happened to be Pettitte's first 2012 start at Yankee Stadium.

Fass now has experienced life as a baseball fan, but he wants more. His next step: To be a player. In June, Fass plans on playing T-Ball indoors at the YMCA. Next year, his parents may even let him get a taste of baseball outdoors.

Baseball, though, was on the short list of what children with oculocutaneous albinism cannot do.

"When we were told about his condition, we went home and read two things. One, he'll never play baseball; two, he'll never drive," Andy's father, Marc, told the Times.

After a recent eye exam, the Fass family learned it could be possible for Andy to drive one day. If so, Andy may take part in both of the activities he was never supposed to. He has checked the first one off the list thanks to a little inspiration from an older Andy.

-- Click here for photos by the Times of Trenton with Andy Fass practicing T-Ball.

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Kari Miller had no intentions of playing sitting volleyball.

"No way, shape or form," she says. "I thought of it as a real prissy sport where you wear these little booty shorts. I wasn't going to do it."

But so many things changed in her life 13 years ago when a drunk driver ended a promising career in the military, which included Army deployment to Bosnia and Korea, and took both of her legs.

Miller was celebrating the culmination of her hard work the night of the accident. Instead of waking up to a future in officer candidate school, she was left a double amputee.

Where most people would react with shock, anger and even depression, Miller didn't miss a beat. She credits her family as the support system that got her through, including one person in particular.

"My mom has always been a strong woman," she says. "Knowing that I had her there, I knew I was going to be OK."

Sometimes it was tough love though, and Miller admits she might not have understood early on what her mother was trying to do. But without that pushing, Miller would've never won a silver medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

That achievement in sitting volleyball did not come easy though. Miller first tried wheelchair basketball, but failed to qualify for Athens eight years ago. Reluctantly, she took on sitting volleyball, but was too raw to make that team either. Her mother saw the frustration and laid it out for her.

"She said, 'You don't even know what you're doing,'" Miller recalls.

She was right.

It took years of proper training, but Miller is one of the best defensive players in the world now and the American team is ranked second heading into the 2012 Paralympic games in London this summer. With a silver medal already around her neck, Miller is heading into this experience with a much
different mindset.

"I think this time I won't be so distracted by the unknowns," says Miller, who is working with the Citi Every Step of the Way. "I have an idea of how things will go. I won't be side tracked by what's going on around me. My heart won't be pumping 99 miles an hour."

And if Miller and her teammates are able to bring home the gold, she'll have a better respect for that victory than most will ever know.

"I think most people need to fail in order to bask in their success," she says. "Sometimes things come too easy for people and they don't understand what the accomplishments are that they've made."

That is something no one can ever say about Kari Miller.

-- Follow Adam Watson on Twitter @AdamKWatson.

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It takes a heck of a lot for a crusty old NFL coach to be moved to tears, yet that's almost what took place Wednesday night.

Tom Coughlin was honored for his volunteer work with the U.S. Army. The cantankerous Giants coach opens doors to his teams practices and games for soldiers and their families. In addition, Coughlin regularly visits wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Medical Center and other installations, and he even flew to Iraq in 2009 as part of a USO tour with other NFL coaches.

Accordingly, Coughlin received the Outstanding Civilian Service Award, right in the middle of Washington Redskins country.

Army Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno, a well known Giants fan, left Coughlin humbled and at times speechless during the patriotic ceremony that took place with four others near Arlington National Cemetery with a view of the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, according to the NY Post.

As an illustration of how special the ceremony was, it included an artillery salute, as well as soldiers reenacting moments from the Revolutionary War and Vietnam.

“When the general was standing there reading off that stuff about me, it was almost like I was saying to myself, ‘Who’s he talking about?’" Coughlin told The Post. “It was unbelievable to me,” continued Coughlin, who was accompanied to the event by wife Judy. “The patriotism just came pouring out of me with all of the pomp and circumstance and standing there next to a four-star general. That’s what you call humbling.”

Coughlin, who will be back in DC with the Giants specifically for a visit to President Obama at the White House on June 8, will be happy to know the Chief of Staff is a huge fan of his community service.

“You’re talking about someone who has really dedicated himself over a long period of time to caring about our soldiers and their families,” Onierno told the NY Post. “His dedication to the military is quite significant.”

-- Follow Ben Maller on Twitter @BenMaller.

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David Beckham is kicking his high jinks with President Obama up a notch. The soccer star was the butt of a few jokes during the LA Galaxy's visit to the White House to celebrate their 2011 MLS title last week. To start, Obama poked fun at Beckham's endorsement of men's undergarments.

"It is a rare man who can be that tough on the field and also have his own line of underwear," Obama said with a smile (via the Daily Mail).

In addition, the President joked about Beckham's age, as most of his Galaxy teammates are much younger than the 37-year-old. "I have to say I gave David a hard time - I said half his teammates could be his kids," the president said. "We're getting old David, although you're holding up better than me."

President Obama also dogged Beckham over his Colonel Sanders-style facial hair, according to the Sun of London.

Beckham isn't angry with the antics, in fact, he's happy for the free skivvies plug. To show his thanks, the soccer star plans to send the Commander-in-Chief a "big box" of his underwear.

-- Follow Ben Maller on Twitter @BenMaller.

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The 2012 NFL rookies aren't just bringing new energy and talent to their teams. Some of them might be clearing a path toward the open acceptance of gay professional football players.

Last week, the website Outsports, which covers sports for the gay community, went to the NFLPA Rookie Premiere events in Los Angeles to find out whether players would be comfortable playing football with a gay teammate -- and what they learned might surprise you.

"We were met with a gay-positive attitude from every player we talked to," writes Cyd Zeigler, Jr. "And some warmly welcomed us with open arms."

From President Obama's newly vocal support of gay marriage and the ensuing Newsweek cover ("The First Gay President?") to North Carolina's recent ban on gay marriage, the hot topic isn't cooling anytime soon. For gay rights activists, the support of NFL stars -- often seen as the epitome of masculinity -- is a big step toward tolerance.

Indianapolis Colts tight end Coby Fleener told Outsports, "As long as they competed on the field and gave it their all in practice, that’s all I care about."

Fleener played at Stanford, not far from San Francisco, where the gay community flourishes. He said that made him "very comfortable" with the culture. But even players from more conservative regions and colleges didn't hesitate to express their support.

Heisman Trophy winner and new Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III told Outsports about a high school teammate from Copperas Cove who came out and then quickly stepped down from the team. He said he has gay friends and wouldn't care at all if a fellow Redskin came out. After all, "Just because they're gay doesn't mean they're hitting on you," he said.

If you think it's just young rookies who are open to the idea of gay teammates, think again. Jevon Kearse, a three-time Pro Bowl defensive end for the Titans played in the NFL for 11 years and told Outsports he's sure he played alongside one or two gay players.

"In the game of football, it's like a war out there," Kearse said. “Once you get out on the field, all that stuff is to the side. You're on my side." His former teammate Eddie George agreed, and more NFL veterans opened up to say playing football and team camaraderie are far more important than a teammate's sexual orientation.

Former Giant Michael Strahan and Giants' owner Steve Tisch supported New York's legalization of same-sex marriage, and former Giant linebacker Antonio Pierce said it's all about "winning football games and winning championships," no matter how a teammate lives his personal life.

It all makes you stop and wonder: Maybe the NFL -- and major league sports in general -- aren't as homophobic as you might think. After all, a 2006 Sports Illustrated poll found that the majority of players in the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL would welcome a gay teammate. That was the same year "Brokeback Mountain" got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture -- the year Esera Tuaolo released his memoir about being gay in the NFL. With so many more players openly discussing the idea -- and with a gay sports website -- it's likely that an updated poll would show athletes skewing even more toward acceptance.

There are other, more recent signals of progress for the gay community when it comes to major league sports.

Patrick Burke, a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, was featured earlier this month in Sports Business Daily for starting a nonprofit to honor his brother Brendan, who was killed in a 2010 car accident just a few months after coming out. Their father is Toronto Maple Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke. Patrick's organization, You Can Play, is working with the NHL and MLS on videos, merchandise and other media encouraging acceptance.

Maybe one day we'll see an NFL player starring in a You Can Play video. If Zeigler's Outsports story is any indication of a changing football culture in America, that might only be the beginning.

"These aren’t third-stringers we talked to. These men are NFL stats leaders, national champions and high draft picks," Zeigler writes. "They are the past, present and future leaders of the NFL."

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The players are still filing in for a Wednesday evening practice at Levine-Fricke Field on the campus of the University of California-Berkeley. The tings of batting practice from some of the early arrivals ring in the cages. Once rounded up in the dugout of the tree-shaded diamond, the team hustles down to a lower turf field to begin warm-ups as preparation for their weekend postseason games.

The top-ranked softball team in the land is in mostly a chipper mood, with young women singing and cracking jokes, and why shouldn't they be? They just finished one of the finest regular seasons in program history with a 50-4 record, won the inaugural Pac-12 championship, and will host their first NCAA regional since 1993.

A member of the squad voices a ho-hum complaint.

"It's good to be alive, though," responds shortstop Cheyenne Cordes. "It's good to be alive."

In this case, the All-Pac-12 freshman means more than just the team prolonging the season with its 27th consecutive postseason appearance.

In 2010, the Golden Bears began taking part in the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, where local high school and college teams around the country adopt children with brain tumors as honorary members. Barbara "Bebe" Wiggs, a now 5-year-old with a rare form of brain cancer, has been with the team acting as its inspiration ever since.

"Having Bebe as a part of our team motivates us to be the best we can be," Cordes said in late April. "If she can battle through everything that she has been though, then we can play our hardest for her on the field. She always picks us up when we're down."

To say that Bebe has been through a lot would be a severe trivialization. In 2009 her parents Geoff and Nancy -- residents of nearby Half Moon Bay -- discovered an outgrowth near her left eye that ended up being a large tumor in her brain. Since then, she has undergone a substantial surgery to mostly clear the cancer, stints of radiation and other weighty drugs, as well as more than a year straight of chemotherapy.

To Bebe, just getting the chance to hang out with the team is something her father says has simply been amazing.

"It's hard to even describe," he says. "There's just so much emotional and physical support, and so much acceptance. They make her feel like she's a member of the team, which is quite a privilege for a 5-year-old kid. Every time she shows up, Bebe has 30 big sisters. The bonds with these older girls mean so much to her."

While Bebe has used her occasional trip spending time with the players at the ball field as a source of courage, the feeling is more than mutual.

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"Bebe has taught me that everyday is a gift -- a gift that we should cherish and have faith in," says assistant coach Tammy Lohmann, who helped get the ball rolling in Cal's involvement with Friends of Jaclyn in 2009. "Her quiet strength and spirit that she gives to our team is far more than we could ever give back. Her spirit and love for life is such a great motivation for our team, and inspires each of us to give our all and never give up."

Junior Jolene Henderson, the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, has been one of the closest to Bebe, stopping by the Wiggs' home on more than one occasion to deliver gifts, spend time with her and even go out for a movie.

"Being with her is such a gift to me," says Henderson (pictured at right with Bebe). "The effect she has on people with her laughter and excitement for life and people is awesome. I'm so lucky to have met her and been able to be around her."

Since doing her last round of radiation in April 2010, and last chemo in November of the same year, Bebe has continued to improve. Geoff notes that when the family attended their first game back in 2010, Bebe was not even strong enough to stay awake for the game, falling asleep on his shoulder shortly after it got underway. She's been able to gain back some weight and muscle tone, and is now able to take part in the first pitch at the annual game commemorating her attendance. During a Sunday game against UCLA this season (a 10-3 win) Geoff notes that she was even able to run the bases twice.

"It's a great experience to just see her improving and being a normal kid again," he says. "Her strength is coming back, we're some of the lucky ones. We made it through. But we're not out of the woods by any stretch."

Children with the form of cancer that Bebe has, known as ETANTR, or embryonal tumor with abundant neuropil and true rosettes, are given between a 5 percent and 15 percent chance of survival. "It's pretty dismal," Geoff says.

Bebe still has scheduled MRIs at the University of San Francisco Medical Center every three months, and check-ups every six at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. The Wiggs have experienced two years of stability, meaning no new growth, but there are still pieces of tumor in Bebe's brain, and a completely clean bill of health remains elusive.

As Cal attempts to add to its list of 14 Women's College World Series appearances, and the lone national championship in 2002, beginning with a game against Iona on Friday night, the team knows its biggest fan and largest source of inspiration -- Bebe Wiggs -- will be in the stands cheering them on. Appropriately, the May game falls within National Brain Tumor Awareness Month.

"We'll be all over it," says Geoff, planning to attend the weekend games where his wife Nancy was an undergraduate. "Go, Cal!"

As the players return to the diamond to start practice by working on their hitting and fielding on that cool Wednesday night, with unrestrained excitement, one shouts, "It's a great day to be alive!"

The Wiggs family shares the feeling.

-- For more information about the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, visit its website at FriendsOfJaclyn.net.

-- Photo Credits: CalBears.com

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Stephen Strasburg is off to a sensational start and Bryce Harper made a big splash in his MLB debut, but the biggest hero for the Nationals this season might be an usher named Andre Hawthorne for a courageous act performed away from the stadium.

The Nationals will honor Hawthorne before Tuesday's night game, a team spokesperson told the Washington Post, after he saved kids in his neighborhood from a vicious dog attack.

Hawthorne was returning from the ball park to his home in northeast Washington last week when he saw two large dogs terrorizing the kids, some of whom were forced to flee to the roof of a parked car, WJLA reported.

The children were able to run to safety while Hawthorne confronted the dogs with a knife. The dogs attacked Hawthorne, biting him on the left arm and left hand, and he is receiving rabies shots.

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