Imagine the reaction of the youthful hospital patients when not one, but four Major League players paid a visit to the Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago last season.

And, if it was the first time meeting a big leaguer for most of the patients, it also was the rookie hospital visit for Mike Fontenot, Reed Johnson and Michael Wuertz.

If Fontenot, Johnson and Wuertz -- Wuertz is now with the A's -- had any hesitation about how to act, all they had to do was follow the lead of pitcher Ryan Dempster, a veteran of bringing good cheer to hospitals and one of the game's most active community contributors.

"Demp is really good with all that stuff," Fontenot said. "I looked forward to it. It definitely was an eye-opening thing to go do. It really makes us feel good to go there and help out in any way we can, especially when you see the smiles on all the kids' faces, to be able to hang out and talk with us. Just walking in the room, they lit up.

"A few were real big Cubs fans. One kid had a Cubs pennant in his room."

Johnson said he'd like to do even more hospital visits.

"It's tough to see that," he said of meeting children with serious illnesses. "At the same time, you realize the good you're doing, not only for the kids, but for the families."

One of baseball's most surprising starters last season in his conversion from Cubs closer, Dempster has a simple motivation.

"I like to get out to as many hospital visits as I can," he said. "Whenever they ask, I like to volunteer.

"I think it's important to make some kids smile. We can't be the cure for things. But we can lift the spirits of not only the kids, but also the staff and the doctors who are working day and night to try to get them better."

The players came late on a morning of a scheduled night game at Wrigley Field last season. Since the Cubs still have fewer after-dark contests than other teams, the players have to maximize the impact when they are able to make such forays in the community.

"It was nice to walk in and be able to see the smiles on their faces, even with the hard times they're going through," Johnson said. "Not just them but also their parents. It meant a lot for both parents and kids."

-- Red Line Editorial