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Yankees Honor Ridgefield's Prospector Theater In Surprise Appearance

Kris "K-Mann" Mann, a member of The Prospector Theater, discusses baseball with Yankees third baseman Chase Headley at an event Tuesday in Ridgefield. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Yankees General Partner/Vice Chairman Jennifer Steinbrenner-Swindal, with Hope Allison Ciota, sister of Prospector Theater founder Valerie Jensen. Ciota has Down syndrome. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Valerie Jensen, founder of The Prospector Theater, speaks Tuesday as the Yankees contribute $10,000 to the theater, which employs people with disabilities. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Kris "K-Mann" Mann puts his hand on Yankees Manager Joe Girardi's shoulder at an event Tuesday in Ridgefield. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi poses with Katie Faughnan, of Stamford, while Girardi's daughter, Lena, 8, takes the photo. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, at left, and General Manager Brian Cashman, at right, pose with two fans at The Prospector Theater. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
Hope Allison Ciota, sitting, poses with her sister Amy Ciota. Hope, 35, has Down syndrome. Their sister Valerie Jensen founded The Prospector Theater as a place to provide employment for people with disabilities. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
New York Yankees player Chase Headley signs an autograph of a fan at The Prospector Theater in Ridgefield. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern
The Prospector Theater in Ridgefield, which provides employment for people with disabilities. Photo Credit: Frank MacEachern

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- The New York Yankees hit a grand slam with their fans at an appearance in Ridgefield on Tuesday, but Caleb Bambach and Thomas DeVittorio may have been the true stars of the day.

Yankees players Brian McCann and Chase Headley, along with Manager Joe Girardi, General Manager Brian Cashman, and General Partner/Vice Chairman Jennifer Steinbrenner-Swindal surprised the workers and staff at the Prospector Theater as part of a weeklong Yankees event called HOPE Week.

The Prospector Theater opened in November and provides employment to people with mental and physical disabilities. It was founded by Valerie Jensen, who has a sister with Down syndrome.

Jensen and her staff were gathered in a darkened theater for staff training, and she was completely unaware of what would happen until the Yankees walked out of a side door and stepped in front of the screen.

"This is all a surprise to me. I did not know this. I wonder what else my team is hiding from me," Jensen joked.

When the Yankees were about to speak, 5-year-old Caleb Bambach, of Bethel, who has Down syndrome, had other ideas. He grabbed the microphone and started talking about his love of Sponge Bob, much to the delight of the Yankees and the crowd in attendance.

Later, as the Yankees players signed autographs during a lunch provided by the team, Headley and McMann were delighted by the pitch-perfect imitations of Yankees radio play-by-play announcer John Sterling by DeVittorio, 22, of South Salem, N.Y., one of the employees with disabilities.

His imitation of Sterling's home run calls for Headley and McCann left the two men laughing.

"I like to do impressions," DeVittoriio said during a break in his performance. "I like to keep the vibe going."

McCann was impressed with the theater and its mission.

"It's an amazing feeling to see what they are doing here," he said. "They are creating jobs; they're creating a second home for these guys to come. It's amazing what they have done."

Created in 2009 and heading into its seventh year in 2015, the Yankees' HOPE Week initiative (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) selects a person, family or organization that is worthy of recognition or support. The Prospect Theater was the second honoree in the weeklong event.

"We are really lucky to have a chance to come here and participate on a day like today," said Cashman, adding that the team never has had any problems getting players to volunteer

"This gets our team outside the stadium and puts them into the community," he said. "It gets them to really interact with people that they would never had a chance to."

The team also contributed a $10,000 check to the organization.

At The Prospector Theater, staff members are referred to as "prospects," as a way to make them feel inspired to realize their own potential and give them the necessary training to advance to other jobs using the skills developed at the theater.

The theater, at 25 Prospect St., has four theaters, ranging in capacity from 16 to 167 people, with the smallest theater designed especially for people with sensory issues who may not enjoy movies in larger settings.  Each of the four theaters has accessible seating, along with fixed chairs, so friends and families are able to watch movies together.

All of the theaters are also equipped with technology to aid those who are hearing and/or visually impaired, offering closed-captioning glasses and high-quality headphones.

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