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Royals celebrate 15-year partnership with Dream Factory program

Mike Sweeney with 10-year-old Aidan Simecka from Topeka, Kan., a Dream Factory child He stood right there. More than an arm's length away, but no more than 10 feet from him. He was leaning on a bat, suited up in that famous No. 29 uniform with his back to the dugout. To an outside observer, he was so close, yet, to 10-year-old Aidan Simecka standing in the Royals dugout, Mike Sweeney seemed so far away at that very moment.

What if Mike didn't come over? What if he didn't even turn around to look in the dugout? What if it turned out that Aidan didn't get a chance to meet his hero, to tell Mike that he was his favorite player, to let him know that they shared the same birthday?

As batting practice continued in front of him, Aidan's mind seemed to be racing as he contemplated all the "what ifs" of the situation unfolding before him. Until, of course, all those "what ifs" were put to rest when Mike, sporting a big grin, turned around in Aidan's direction, took a step toward the dugout and spoke.

"Hey, buddy."

Made possible by the Dream Factory program, meeting Sweeney truly was a dream come through for Aidan, a Topeka, Kan., native who, despite talking up a storm all afternoon, found himself speechless when Mike approached. Aidan has been a Dream Factory child since he was 3 years old. Now, seven years later, the fifth grader, along with his dad, Jason, mom, Dori, and 13-year-old brother, Avery, joined KMBC-TV's Larry Moore and Dream Factory representative Tom Caldwell at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday, May 9 to help celebrate 15 successful years of the Royals partnership with the Greater Kansas City Chapter of the Dream Factory program.

For each Wednesday home game throughout the season, the Royals work with Dream Factory to grant the wish of a Dream Factory child, a youngster who faces a life-threatening challenge. The child, along with his or her family, is invited out to Kauffman Stadium to watch the Royals take batting practice before receiving tickets and refreshments for that day's game. The child's Royals experience then appears on the KMBC-TV (Channel 9) 10 p.m. newscast in the "Dream Factory" segment.

"It just adds to the child's dream when the Royals provide this experience for the program," said Caldwell, who has been with Dream Factory for 14 years. "It's a great opportunity for the kids to be down here, meeting the players. I can't believe it's already been 15 years of us coming out here like this."

The Greater Kansas City Chapter of the Dream Factory started in 1985 with a $250 grant from the Optimist Club. From that modest donation, the program has expanded to grant the dreams of hundreds of youth from the area and estimates that nearly 200 seriously or chronically ill children from the Greater Kansas City area are reached annually. The dreams aim to give hope to the children and include almost any fantasy the child imagines such as shopping sprees, concert tickets, family reunions and trips to popular destinations like Disney World, a place Aidan visited as part of a granted dream when he first became a Dream Factory child.

"I don't really remember Disney World because I was young," said Aidan, who was only 3 years old at the time of the first dream. "But, I know I'll remember coming (to Kauffman Stadium)."

There's little doubt Aidan could forget his trip to see the Royals. Although, there was a brief moment when Sweeney approached him that Aidan almost forgot to say the one thing he always wanted to tell his favorite player.

As one of the most popular players in a Royals uniform, Sweeney has met many young fans during his time in Kansas City. But, when Aidan - decked out in his homemade Sweeney jersey - finally mustered up the courage to tell Mike that they shared the same birthday (July 22), Mike's eyes lit up almost as big as the kid who had one of his dreams come true. If you weren't right there, you might not have noticed - but, if you were as close as Aidan was to his hero, the moment couldn't be missed.

Mike Sweeney with 10-year-old Aidan Simecka from Topeka, Kan., a Dream Factory child 10-year-old Aidan Simecka from Topeka, Kan., a Dream Factory child