It was always the week leading into Christmas that Junior Seau received his biggest present.
“Are you kidding,” Hank Bauer said. “He probably got more out of it than anybody.”
Seau was everyone’s buddy and that was especially true for kids this time of the year. The longevity of Seau’s legacy was on display at the Junior Seau Foundation’s 23rd annual Shop with a Jock on Dec. 12.
Seau, the Oceanside native and former Chargers great, loved to give and he loved children. His signature event gathered local athletes and 200 children from families with financial restraints. They would go on a shopping spree that left the elders humbled and the youngsters appreciative.
Through Seau’s charity, Christmas was always a little brighter for those in need. Those kids, from San Diego County Boys & Girls Clubs, were a reminder of Seau’s youth, back when he slept in his family’s garage with his brothers.
“Junior never forgot where he came from,” said Bauer, the ex-Chargers player, coach and broadcaster.
Just like the hundreds of kids who recently gathered at the Target in Mission Valley will never forget this Christmas. The youngsters were connected with pro and college athletes and were given $100 to shop for their family.
For Bauer, it was his 23rd year of pitching in.
“In all the years I’ve done this,” Bauer said, “I think a kid has only put his name on the list once or twice. They are always wanting to take care of their brothers and sisters first.”
Mark Grant checked his list twice, making sure he could contribute again. After taking part last year, the Fox Sports San Diego announcer wasn’t going to miss out.
“Last year, it was kind of emotional for me,” he said and yes, there was a catch in his throat.
Grant assisted an 11-year-old girl, whom he described “as sweet as you could be.” They walked the aisles together, adding up in their head how much this and that would be. In her quest to keep the tab at $100, Grant was moved.
“It’s very tough when you know a family, and a kid, is not as fortunate as a lot of us are,” he said. “That $100 meant everything in the world to her. Then I think of some people, and I’m guilty of it too, of saying, ‘$100, whatever, that’s no big deal.’ But to her it meant everything for her family.”
Just like Seau meant so much to so many before taking his life in 2012. That pain of losing a friend — and who wasn’t his friend? — is dented a bit every holiday.
Thoughts turn to Seau’s contributions to the needy, even after his passing, when contemplating Jackie Robinson’s celebrated quote: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Bauer said the good vibes aren’t restricted to the tykes pushing shopping carts.
“Among the many great things about this event is not only does it help the kids, but with it including all the pro and college athletes, it benefits them, too,” Bauer said. “For many of them it’s a constant reminder of where they came from.”
Seau hailed from Oceanside and few were prouder to say just that. He also received a lifeline from the Oceanside Boys & Girls Club.
“Without that Boys & Girls Club, who knows what would have happened,” Bauer said.
The best happening of the holiday season just might be Shop with a Jock, and those kids’ smiles are the reason why. Somewhere, Seau has his toothy grin, too, as his legacy of comforting others lives on.
Contact Jay Paris at email@example.com. Follow him @jparis_sports
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports