“Champion Honors Luncheon” Benefits Barbara Sinatra Children's Center

Baseball greats Johnny Bench, Ralph Kiner, Ted Sizemore in attendance

(From left): Jackie Autry, Bud Selig and Barbara Sinatra enjoy the “Champion Honors Luncheon” Jan. 17 at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort.

Pat Krause


Barbara Sinatra, the “Aunts” and “Uncles” of the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, and co-chairs Hal Gershowitz, Angie Gerber, Bill Nicholson, and Leisa Austin hit a home run Jan. 17 at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort.

The contingent saluted Jackie Autry. honorary president of the American Baseball League, and Major League Baseball Commissioner Alan “Bud” Selig, keynote speaker at the organization’s annual “Champion Honors Luncheon”.

The event was the most successful in the six-year history – attracting almost 700 attendees including sports legends and representatives from every city in the Coachella Valley as well as county and state officials.

Autry, introduced as a “true California Angel” for her philanthropy, American Baseball League, and California Angel history, gave a moving pitch for the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, speaking of the long friendship she and her late husband, Gene Autry, had with the Sinatras. A touching video introduced by actor Joe Montegna included personal stories of abuse and recovery by two young girls treated at the center.

The event raised more than $200,000 and attracted 129 new “Aunts” and “Uncles”, each of whom pledged $1,000 a year to become a supporter. It was Frank Sinatra who suggested an “Aunt” and “Uncle” program to raise additional funds. He became the first “Uncle” while Helene Galen, president of the Center, became the first “Aunt.”

Melissa Batalles drew cheers for her rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” and later “The Greatest Love of All”.

Everyone received small boxes of popcorn and cracker-jack; the USC Marching Band played “Take Me Out To the Ballgame”; members of the Palm Desert High School baseball team escorted honorees to their seats, and baseball legends introduced included Ralph Kiner, Johnny Bench, Pete Richert, Ted Sizemore, Al Rosen, and Ron Fairly.

The 26th annual Frank Sinatra Celebrity Invitational is next, Feb. 20-22 featuring Wayne Newton at the black tie Saturday night dinner.

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