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Detroit — Judges should have been on hand at Children's Hospital early Friday afternoon.

They could have awarded scores for smiles, with Justin Verlander earning a 10, and Ian Kinsler threatening to at least tie his Tigers teammate during a Caravan stop at one of Michigan's most inspiring and, too often, heartbreaking sites.

Children's Hospital has been in Detroit since the late 1800s. And it has been a regular stop for the Tigers long before late manager Sparky Anderson made it place of particular devotion during his years here as manager.

Verlander and Kinsler arrived in tandem with mascot Paws just after lunch. Kids who are patients there, and their parents, were waiting, in the lobby's greeting area and, later, in hospital rooms.

The two Tigers greeted youngsters galore, posed for pictures, and asked upbeat questions of children who have not known the priceless gift of perfect health.

"Tough stop for me," said Kinsler, the Tigers second baseman who is beginning his second season in Detroit. "I don't enjoy seeing kids in the state they are, but they always seem to be so happy, and to have joy, no matter how many tubes might be attached to them.

"To see that is special."

Verlander, beaming nonstop, asked one boy age 4 or 5 about his sports interests — whether he played baseball, football, or basketball.

The youngster, who appeared healthy but was battling some undisclosed disorder, lighted up at the attention, the personal nature of Verlander's curiosity.

They chatted about sports, in general, as the Tigers' biggest pitching celebrity welcomed another mother and child to his sofa for one more photo snap.

Larry Gold, the chief executive officer for Children's Hospital of Michigan, said about 200 children are patients at the facility on Beaubien, not far from Comerica Park.

"Sparky really had a special place in his heart for Children's (Hospital), and today you can see again that the players get a context for what they're doing here," Gold said as Kinsler and Verlander distributed high-fives, hugs, and conversation geared to the Tigers' littlest followers.

Gold acknowledged Children's Hospital's patients are at capacity this month. Winter can be particularly difficult on kids with respiratory problems. Spring is filled with allergy and asthma victims. And summer is especially rough because of outdoor and boating accidents that too frequently mean trauma for a child and a family.

But the Tigers are there, always, either by way of financial support from The Tiger Foundation, or in the persons of players who on Friday weren't sure who most benefited.

"They (patients) think the players are the heroes," Gold said. "But players learn fast that the patients are the real heroes."

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