Baseball’s Challenger Division About Love of the Game

Malden All-star John Marsinelli heads to first base after getting a hit in the 2011 Challenger game.

– 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.

On this Sunday afternoon, the MIT celebrate the eighth 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.

Doubleday probably didn’t design format of one inning game with no player making an out and no one keeping score but if he saw it, he would say it was the best baseball he had 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 ( along with more photos of the event. Companies like Konica Minolta, National Grid, Pizzeria Regina, Raso’s Grille 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 are 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 do a great job of working with the kids. Some of the volunteers hear about the event and just showed up that day. Others bring 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 dance or YMCA! Giovino concluded.

When the games are over, the athletes, volunteers, and fans were treated to lunch. The bulk of the food and drink is 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 do 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 8th Challenger Day, I am so amazed at the spirit of this event”, said Giovino Once again the many volunteers have not only accomplished that goal, but exceeded everyone’s expectations”, he continued “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”, we have planned a great day of fun and surprises.

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, setting up, or working with the kids, they all do it with an amazing energy and a smile. These folks are true heroes of the community. Congratulations to the MIT Staff!

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