In the News
ESSEX — The opening ceremony of the Strike 3 Foundation whiffle ball tournament was delayed Saturday for, well, whiffle ball.
After seven innings — regulation play at the Little Fenway competition — the game between the Trinity Bantams and Curse Lifted was tied.
Each pitcher, the Bantams’ Nick DiBenedetto and Curse Lifted’s Dan French, had struck out the last batter of the seventh to extend the game. French, a onetime Mount Mansfield Union High School pitcher, fanned his opponent with a speedball delivered from between his legs.
Five-five after seven.
“We play extras here at Little Fenway,” the play-by-play man announced.
The game was a cliff-hanger, and people were hanging on a cliff – or at least sitting on a grassy hillside at the beautiful ballfield in Essex – to watch the showdown.
The Bantams won it in a tiebreaker after eight innings of play: A home-run contest that was decided when Jon Frank, rightfielder for the Trinity College Bantams, hit a homer over the Green Monster – a mini-monster that is 94.5-feet from home plate.
The games are fun, Frank said after the win. Still, he felt a little pressure.
With a break in the tourney action, which unfolded on three country ballfields with mountain views, it was time for the opening ceremony. The crowd stood for the national anthem.
Then Craig Breslow, a relief pitcher for the Red Sox, talked about the charity he founded seven years ago, Strike 3 Foundation. The nonprofit raises money for pediatric cancer research and other funding. Since its founding in 2008, Strike 3 Foundation has raised more than $3 million, Breslow said.
The 10-team whiffle ball tournament Saturday – Strike 3’s first fundraiser at Little Fenway – was on target to raise $25,000.
“I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed and impressed by the organization … and the beauty of the environment,” Breslow said.
Little Fenway was built in 2001 in the Essex yard of Pat and Beth O’Connor. It is a to-scale replica of the Boston ballpark – complete with a Citgo sign – that is one-quarter the size of Fenway Park.
“We owe Pat O’Connor an incredible debt of gratitude for literally turning over your backyard to us,” Breslow said.
Earlier in the day, as the leftie used his left hand to sign autographs with a black Sharpie, Breslow said he hoped to be invited back for a fundraising tournament next fall.
“I’m blown away,” Breslow said. “It seems like Pat and the rest of his staff have covered everything.”
He enumerated the offerings: parking, a grounds crew, music and announcers. There is also beer, bleachers, bunting and adjoining baseball fields: a small version of Wrigley Field and a little Field of Dreams, where corn plants grow along the outfield fence.
“If they could pick up the real Fenway Park and drop it in the middle of Vermont in October, it would be picturesque,” Breslow said. “But I don’t know if they have the crowd capacity.”
A crowd gathered Saturday for the 10-team tournament, with players and spectators enjoying a gorgeous fall day with a football kind of nip in the air.
Dylan Sherwood, 8, from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, came north with his family to play in the tournament.
“I’m just waiting for the next game,” Dylan said to Breslow, approaching the Major Leaguer for his autograph.
Breslow asked Dylan how his first game went: “Not too good,” Dylan said.
His team was beaten, 12-0. But Dylan, like other players at the charity event, noted the larger cause.
“I think that I should’ve came here,” Dylan said. “Cause I like to help people.”
DiBenedetto and his teammates left Hartford, Connecticut, at 5 a.m. Saturday to get to the tournament in Vermont.
He is an English major at Trinity College, and shortstop on the baseball team.
DiBenedetto said he learned about the Strike 3 Foundation event from his father, Thomas DiBenedetto, a Red Sox owner. He had played in an other charity fundraiser at Little Fenway, the annual benefit for the Travis Roy Foundation.
“I was like, I gotta come back here,” DiBenedetto said. “This place is so awesome.”
His team Saturday had Trinity College baseball players, a basketball player and hockey player from the college, and some club baseball players from Northeastern University, DiBenedetto said.
“Pitching is huge,” he said of whiffle ball. “And hustle is huge.”
The Bantams won their first three games, including the extra-inning thriller against Curse Lifted. The teams competed again later in the day, facing each other in a semifinal game.
The Bantams won again, and advanced to Saturday’s championship game against Porcello’s Eagles. The team is led by Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello, who played outfield at the Strike 3 Foundation charity tournament.
With hours of whiffle ball still to play at Little Fenway, DiBenedetto surveyed his surroundings and offered this view: “If I could imagine heaven, this is what I would imagine it to be.”
By Sally Pollock
The Strike 3 Foundation heightens awareness, mobilizes support, and raises funding for childhood cancer research.
How you can help
Strike 3 Foundation
PO Box 191
Monroe, CT 06468