- Ron Giovino
According the Wikipedia, the question of the origins of baseball has been the subject of debate and controversy for more than a century. Baseball and the other modern bat, ball and running games, cricket and rounders, were developed from earlier folk games.
Americans played a version of the English game rounders in the early 19th century which they called “Town Ball.” In fact, early forms of baseball had a number of names, including “Base Ball,” “Goal Ball ” “Round Ball,” “Fletch-catch,” “stool ball,” and, simply, “Base.” In at least one version of the game, teams pitched to themselves, runners went around the bases in the opposite direction of today’s game, and players could be put out by being hit with the ball. Like today, a batter was called out after three strikes.
Few details of how the modern games developed from earlier folk games are known. Some think that various folk games resulted in a game called town ball from which baseball was eventually born.
Whether Doubleday created the basic concept of the game of baseball or not, no one could have imagined that on a weekend in August hundreds of years later, the City of Malden could have been so impacted by the invention.
In deference to the great efforts of the MIT All-stars, who have been battling in Billerica for two weeks the big game was Sunday afternoon. On Sunday afternoon, the MIT celebrated the seventh year of the best baseball ever, Challenger Day. The Challenger division of Little League is dedicated to helping kids with mental and physical disabilities play baseball.
It was a beautiful day for baseball. Many dignitaries from Malden and Medford were on hand to once again support the MIT and welcome the athletes from Malden, Wakefield, Medford, Billerica, and the many cities and towns they support to Bruce Field in Malden. Close to forty athletes competed in this year’s Challenger Day… Over three hundred and fifty fans were on hand to cheer the kids on.
The magic of Challenger Day was in the air right in the early morning as the MIT staff and about one hundred volunteers gather to start preparing for the day. After two weeks of the intense tournament it was nice to see the smiles and sense of anticipation on the volunteers who couldn’t wait for the game to begin. The MIT staff set up the field with the assistance of the entire City of Malden DPW and spent time organizing the food and running through the events and everyone’s responsibilities so the day would be flawless.
Around noon, the first of the Challenger athletes began to enter the park with their families. Not far behind were the volunteers who generously came out to help. By 12:45, the park was filled with people. The volunteers had gathered in at the entrance of the park and formed a tunnel of love for the kids to enter the field.
Opening ceremonies began with all the fanfare of a World Series game. The program began with introduction of leaders of government and the business community. Our host Mayor Gary Christenson and Mayor Mike McGlynn joined Medford’s Rick Caraviello and Breanna Luongo Kearn. Malden’s Jim Nestor and Maria Doucette, Malden’s Police Chief and Fire Chief along with others were also on hand. After that, the player introductions. As the music plays in the background, the players wait with great anticipation as their name is about to be called and the fans will cheer for them. It was a great chance for the fans and players to see the Ambulance on hand for the kids, the police car, and oh yeah THE BATMOBILE! Just when you thought you saw it all, the all-stars got to see the Malden fire truck parked right in centerfield.
The pomp and circumstance continues with the very impressive entrance of the Malden Police Honor Guard. Once in position, Malden’s own Maya Hayes sang the National Anthem. Time to play ball?
Before the actual game, the MIT invited some surprised guests to the festivities. First, Wally the Green Monster was supposed to be there, but had an unfortunate accident on the way. However, Ray Charles was there! Ray is the blind golden retriever made famous as the Bruin’s biggest canine fan. The atmosphere on the field was electric, but there was still one more surprise. As the music erupted again, the fans could see the final celebrity, from the Boston Bruins, “Blades the Bear”. It was now time to play ball!
A one inning game with no one making an out and no one keeping score would be consider a boring game to some, but for me, it is was the best baseball I have ever seen. To watch these kids respectfully wait for their names to be called, focus on the at bat and despite physical and mental disabilities, hit the ball and run to first, is simply amazing. Add to that the fact that they all do it with a big smile. If Abner Doubleday was there on Sunday, he would say that Challenger Day is what he had in mind when he helped create what was once called TOWN BALL. I think this town did a great job of keeping the true baseball tradition alive.
We were able to sit down with MIT President, Ron Giovino right after the game.
“The event has received great support from the business community”. “We couldn’t do it without the generous contributions of our sponsors”, said MIT President, Ron Giovino. The sponsors are listed on the MIT website (www.mitbaseball.com) along with more photos of the event. Companies like Konica Minolta, National Grid, Pizzeria Regina, and Kelly’s not only make donations but are here and part of the day. We are so fortunate that the Falsaca family has chosen our cause to carry on the memory of our friend Billy Falasca by raising funds to make Challenger Day so special.” Mayor Gary Christenson and the entire city of Malden have welcomed us with open arms. They work tirelessly to make this thing work, Giovino said. “The Irish American Hall has donated the facility for the day, which gives us a great venue for the lunch and closing ceremonies.” “I am so proud to be a part of this great experience” Giovino added. The staff of the Medford Invitational Tournament did an amazing job in coordinating everything that is takes for success, including player recruiting, event planning and food service!” “They are a great bunch of dedicated people, but most importantly, they my friends.”
From the moment the kids arrive, there is an air of excitement at the park. The young athletes are so happy to be there and their smiles are infectious. The MIT staff gives them the “all-star treatment” as each athlete is announced on the loud speaker and is treated to the roar of the crowd as they take their position on the field.
Giovino described the game, “The game consists of a one inning challenge. Each player is assigned a “buddy” who assists them on the field. The volunteers did a great job of working with the kids. Some of the volunteers heard about the event and just showed up that day. Others brought their whole family down for the first time. Every player gets a chance to bat and play the field. The Challenger athletes take the game very seriously, but it is what happens between innings that gets them moving. Just before the teams change up, the MIT staff gets them involved in unique MIT entertainment. The kids really enjoy baseball fan favorites like singing to “Hey Baby” or “Sweet Caroline” and get to dance to “YMCA” or “The Chicken Dance”. The MIT Dancers, Tom and Chuck led the kids on the field. It is quite a spectacle to see all the fans come onto the field with the volunteers and kids and join in the party. It is something to see over three hundred people at a Little League Park dancing the Chicken YMCA! Every one of the 300+ guests dance over to the IA hall in “GANGNAM STYLE! “, Giovino concluded.
When the games were over, the athletes, volunteers, and fans were treated to lunch. The bulk of the food and drink was donated. Kelly’s Roast Beef donated the hotdogs, Regina’ Pizzeria Restaurant, Raso’s, Carter Veal, and others supplied everyone with pizza, chicken fingers and hamburgers. The food service volunteers did an incredible job of getting everyone fed. “We are so blessed to have so many caring people help us with Challenger Day” said Ron Giovino. “These kids are so special that once you have been at Challenger Day, you’re hooked for life.” “Every volunteer leaves the park thanking us and making the commitment to be there next year.” Giovino concluded.
“Even though this is the 7th Challenger Day, I am so amazed at the spirit of this event”, said Giovino. “Our goals at the start of the two-week are to run a safe, fun and competitive event for the kids and the fans Once again the many volunteers have not only accomplished that goal, but exceeded everyone’s expectations”, he continued. “We always say that we measure the success of the tournament by the smiles we see on the kids and fans faces, but this year we were overwhelmed by the many volunteer’s smiles, as well.” “It is truly the magic of this event that makes people work so hard to make others happy” “Giovino concluded. I am so proud of the effort of these folks.” “They all have made memories for these kids that will last a lifetime and that is a great thing.” This year, thanks to the generosity of the “Batter Up for Billy Foundation”, Ron was able to surprise every all-star there with a Challenger Day All-Star jacket to commemorate their participation in the day.
The MIT Staff has done an incredible job of serving the community. They have really gone above and beyond to make this tournament so special. Whether it’s all the planning, the rules, the on field security, the singing and dancing, or the Challenger Day, these people did another great job. These folks are true heroes of the community. Congratulations to the MIT Staff!