Schwartz: 2 Perfect Games For A Perfect Cause
By Peter Schwartz
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My alarm was set on Saturday for 6:30 a.m. as our family had to be at the field at 8 a.m. to help set up for Levittown North Baseball’s All-Star benefit. When I woke up, I found my wife, Sheryl, in the living room going over a few things. She was in charge of the raffle prizes and was making sure that everything was in order.
Sheryl couldn’t sleep. She had been up since 4:30 wondering how many people would show up and was hoping that the benefit would be a success. At the end of the day, Sheryl could have slept for two more hours because there was nothing to worry about.
The event, held in memory of Lorenzo Fernandez — a 12-year-old boy from Seaford who passed away in March — raised $3,000 for Hope & Heroes Children’s Cancer Fund through the sale of raffle tickets and concessions. It was a wonderful day and I was so honored to be the public address announcer for what was an amazing event.
There were so many people who volunteered their time for this benefit, but the day was the idea of Walter Hetzel, Levittown North’s Pinto Director. Before the season, the plan was to hold All-Star games for the Rookie and Pinto divisions. But since he saw the effect that Fernandez’s passing had on our community, Hetzel decided to turn it into an All-Star benefit instead of just a pair of All-Star games.
We received a ton of community support, including donations from local restaurants and businesses such as Starbucks and Modell’s Sporting Goods. Many of our area sports franchises — including the Yankees, Mets, Jets, Giants, Islanders and Cosmos — also donated raffle prizes.
A local music-supply company donated equipment so that I had a microphone to talk into and so we could play music before, during and after the games.
The community support was overwhelming.
All of the players wore special All-Star shirts that had “Lorenzo 20” on the back, symbolic of his favorite number. One team was blue and one team was green because those are the colors of Fernandez’s favorite soccer team, Real Madrid.
The Rookie All-Star Game in the morning was a thriller, with the green team beating the blue team 7-5 on a walk-off inside-the-park home run. In the rookie league, batters hit off of a pitching machine and they can usually only take one base on a hit. But, with a runner on first, a young man drilled a ball into the outfield and kept running all the way, so I just took it upon myself as the announcer to call it a home run.
I think Lorenzo would have approved of it!
The morning game was attended by Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, a lifelong resident of Levittown. During the game, we announced the winner of the 50-50 raffle, and the winner did a great thing by donating his winnings back to Hope and Heroes. That was outstanding!
In between games, the crowd started to swell. All day long, people bought raffle and 50-50 tickets, but it was right around 1:00 — an hour before the Pinto All-Star Game — when I looked around and was amazed at the amount of people who had turned out.
At that point, Lorenzo’s family arrived — including his mother, Laura. The family would take part in a special pregame ceremony that included some words from Hope and Heroes Executive Director Jeremy Shatan, as well as the introduction of other invited guests. Those guests included Fernandez’s physician, Dr. Darrell Yamashiro, and members of Levittown North Baseball’s Board of Directors.
Then, Laura and her children — Antonio, Raffaella and Amelia — all threw out ceremonial first pitches. My son, Bradley, was the starting catcher for the blue team, so it was a thrill to see him catch the first pitch from Lorenzo’s mom. Bradley then gave the ball back Laura, who gave him a big hug.
Lorenzo liked baseball, but his favorite sport was soccer. Last year, Lorenzo was able to play on the field at Hofstra before a New York Cosmos game. That gave me the idea to invite Cosmos defender Hunter Freeman to the event. Freeman also threw out a ceremonial first pitch, but it was not a baseball. Instead, it was a mini-soccer ball that he autographed and presented to the family.
The second game was the Pinto League All-Star Game between the L-Town Legends (Blue All-Stars) and the Green Machine (Green All-Stars). All of the boys played their hearts out, but it was the blue team that prevailed 12-6 over the green team.
Among the highlights of the game were an inside-the-park home run and a triple play. During the game, we announced the winners of the chinese auction and the 50-50 raffle prize. Once again, the 50-50 winner donated all of the money to Hope & Heroes.
After the game, a base was pulled out of the field and all of the kids signed it before it was presented to Laura Fernandez.
I’ve been to many sporting events in my life — including the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final — but I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in anything like this benefit on Saturday. It was a fun day of baseball, but we were all there for a purpose and a good cause as we raised money for Hope & Heroes.
Traditions have to start somewhere. Hopefully, this benefit is just the beginning of something that will grow each and every year.
I didn’t know Lorenzo Fernandez, but he was known for always smiling. In fact, even after being diagnosed with liver cancer, he never stopped smiling. His mom said that he smiled right to the tragic end.
There’s no question that Lorenzo was smiling on Saturday!
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