NEW YORK  — Chris Singleton took a huge swing and watched the ball sail high into the first row of seats in left at Yankee Stadium, drawing loud whoops and fist bumps from a bunch of big leaguers around the batting cage.

"Yes!" shouted All-Star outfielder Brett Gardner.

"Hey, that's what I'm talking about!" chimed in World Series champion Stephen Drew.

Singleton merely smiled Monday as Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and others cheered him on as the New York Yankees began their annual HOPE Week. That said plenty for this 20-year-old outfielder from Charleston Southern, enjoying one of the best days of his life.

"I play with them in video games. It was cool to meet them in person," he said later.

Exactly two months earlier, it was the worst day anyone could imagine.

On June 17, his mother was among nine people killed at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton was a part-time minister at the church, and was a high school speech pathologist and coach of the girls' track team.

Dylann Roof has been indicted for murder in the shootings. Singleton made headlines a few days later by saying he could forgive Roof because "love is stronger than hate."

"Obviously, an amazing young man who's had to deal with a lot of sadness," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Wearing a Yankees helmet, a HOPE Week shirt, pinstriped pants and a pendant cross, Singleton took batting practice with the team before it played Minnesota.

Singleton shagged balls in the outfield, joined the home-plate exchange of lineup cards and was flanked by 16-year-old sister Camryn and 12-year-old brother Caleb as they threw out ceremonial first balls.

"I was nervous," he admitted. "I think I fouled off the first four pitches."

Singleton's day started on the set of NBC's "Today" show, where Rodriguez, Gardner and Yankees reliever Dellin Betances surprised him. He toured some city sites, and then beelined to the ballpark for the opening day of HOPE Week — started in 2009, it stands for "Helping Others Persevere & Excel" and pays tribute to individuals and groups.

"Honestly, I was shocked at first," he said. "Now, it's like a dream."

Singleton is entering his sophomore season at Charleston Southern. He made 45 starts as a freshman last spring and hit .245 with one home run and 13 RBIs.

Gardner shares a connection with Singleton. He played at the College of Charleston, where Stuart Lake was an assistant; Lake is now the head coach at Charleston Southern, and was in attendance.

"Seeing them up there on the videoboard together, standing out in left field, that's pretty special," Lake said.

Gardner said his home is close to where Singleton lives, and added that he plans on "keeping track" of the young man. Gardner gave him a good scouting report, too: "Can run a little bit, pretty good arm."

Singleton's courage in the face of tragedy was what most impressed those who met him. Twins star Joe Mauer got a few moments with Singleton, as did Minnesota veteran outfielder Torii Hunter.

"They were talking about how strong I've been," Singleton said. Told that many have praised his actions, he softly said, "I don't know if I'm a role model."

There was no denying, however, the home run he launched in batting practice. As Singleton headed off to watch the game from a prime box seat, he already knew what would stick with him as the highlight of the day.

"I will remember that I hit a bomb in BP," he said.


This article was written by Ben Walker from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.