The smiles tell the story.

There are the ones on the faces of players in the Challenger baseball league, for players with physical or mental challenges, near West Hills, Calif. Those players may only get to play the game for an hour a week, but they get the most out of every minute.

And there's the one on the face of Blake Rutherford.

What started as a community service project has become a passion for Rutherford, who'll compete June 22 to 28 at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

"I went once, and I immediately loved it," Rutherford said. "Getting to see kids who struggle or have a hard time going through everyday life, getting to see them happy and enjoying the game of baseball, there's no better feeling than seeing that."

"It's an amazing thing for him," Roy Rutherford, Blake's father, said. "To be able to help them enjoy a sport that is so special to him, and to be able to share that experience with someone who hasn't been equally as blessed, is awesome.

"He is so into it and is out there on a regular basis, out on the field running and throwing and helping. It really does bring tears to your eyes."

Rutherford doesn't get to help out as much as he used to because he has baseball commitments of his own. Committed to UCLA since he was in ninth grade, he's considered one of the top-10 high school prospects for the 2016 Major League draft.

In Cary, he'll be one of 108 players competing for a spot on the USA Baseball 18U National

Team, which will play in the 2015 WBSC 18U World Cup in Osaka, Japan, Aug. 28 to Sept. 6, 2015.

Rutherford would be a repeat member, having been part of the 18U National Team that won a gold medal at the 2014 COPABE Pan American Championships in Mexico.

It's an opportunity Rutherford says he won't take lightly, a feeling strengthened by his work with the Challenger league.

"Sometimes as baseball players we might take things for granted and thinking it's always going to be there," Rutherford said. "But seeing these kids in just an hour playing the game of baseball, and seeing how happy it makes them, it really changed my whole outlook."

He's working to change the outlook for others, too. His mother, Julie, always comes, and Rutherford often brings his friends out to help.

For the past two seasons Rutherford's high school team, Chaminade Prep (Calif.), has worked for the league as a group for at least one Saturday.

All to make the kids smile.

"It's kind of hard to explain," Rutherford said. "No matter what's going on in their life, for one hour they get to step on the baseball field and start having the best time of their lives.

"It's not even about me getting the feeling for myself. If they hit the ball, even if it's on the tee, they get the biggest smile on their face."

They also get to be tutored by a player they can look up to.

Rutherford, who is 6'2" and 192 pounds, got similar encouragement as a child from a member of the USA Baseball 18U coaching staff, former World Series MVP David Eckstein.

Although he grew up a Yankees fan, Rutherford said he often attended Angels' games when Eckstein was with the team. He said he appreciated Eckstein's work ethic and the way he treated fans.

And last summer, at the Tournament of Stars, Rutherford was able to spend time picking Eckstein's brain.

"The guy was counted out his whole life and he made it, World Series MVP," Rutherford said.

"He exceeded all expectations, just like that.

"Talk about one of the nicest, most hardworking baseball guys that I've met. Everything he says, I just make sure I remember it. It's just really cool to know a guy like that, who has proved people wrong."

One thing Rutherford didn't mention during those conversations: As a youngster, he once got Eckstein's autograph.

"When he would run out of the dugout everybody would be asking for his autograph, and I got it once," Rutherford said. "I still have the ball, so it's pretty cool getting to meet him after being a young kid and getting his autograph. It was pretty special."

As a player, Rutherford is pretty special as well.

Dalon Monette, Rutherford's coach with the CBA Marucci travel program, said Rutherford has the bat, arm and speed to be considered a five-tool player.

But Monette is most impressed with Rutherford as a person.

"He's extremely humble for a young man with as much talent as he has," Monette says. "You just don't see kids with his combination of speed and power and hand-eye coordination. He's one of those guys who absolutely flies, and he can beat you so many different ways."

And trying out for the chance to do that for USA Baseball, Monette said, is important to Rutherford, who also played on a 2012 15U National Team.

"USA Baseball, it's like everything in the world to him," he said. "For him to get to do something not a lot of kids get to do even once, and to get to do it almost every year, he's not taken it for granted, not one time."

That's a lesson Rutherford tries to pass on, through Challenger baseball and otherwise.

"The kid has really got a heart for not just kids in need, but young kids in general," Monette said. "He's definitely fulfilled that obligation to pass the knowledge.

"He's been awarded a special set of skills and circumstances where he can reach a lot of people. He makes sure he does, and he realizes this game and this world are a lot bigger than him."

That, too, should make people around him smile.

For news and stories from the Tournament of Stars, follow Mike Persinger on Twitter, @mikep_TOS.