WooSox host Fidrych Foundation, Challenger players take the field

On August 21, 2021, Challenger League players had the chance to live in the shoes of a WooSox player as they took the field at Polar Park as part of a Mark Fidrych Foundation event.

This was an awesome opportunity for the players, who were kids of a variety of ages with special needs. It’s all thanks to the WooSox partnership with the Fidrych Foundation.

A longtime partnership

Even back in Pawtucket, the Red Sox AAA affiliate has always given back to the community around them and made their ballpark accessible to all audiences. As part of this, they have longtime partnerships with both the Challenger League, a baseball league for those with physical and developmental disabilities, and the Mark Fidrych Foundation, an organization that enhances the lives of those with special needs through sports and sports education. The Fidrych Foundation was started by the family of Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych after he died in a tractor accident back in 2009. Fidrych, a former MLB pitcher who spent time with the AAA Red Sox, was highly involved in the community of his hometown of Northborough, MA prior to his death and his family wanted to continue his legacy.

When the team moved to Worcester and became the WooSox, it was the perfect opportunity to bring their Fidrych Foundation and Challenger partnerships together, as the Foundation supports Challenger teams in many nearby towns.

I caught up with Ann and Jessica Fidrych from the Foundation as well as Joe Bradlee, the WooSox Vice President of Baseball Operations and Community Relations, who spoke about the partnership.

Challenger League comes to bat

To begin the day, Challenger League players and their buddies were welcomed onto the field and each player got the chance to bat and run the bases.

As players came up to bat, their names were announced, just like the real WooSox players.

Bradlee pitched to the players and multiple coaches and WooSox staff members, including former Red Sox catcher and current WooSox hitting coach Rich Gedman, played the field.

I caught up with Gedman after the game. Gedman is a Worcester native and is proud to be involved not only with the WooSox but also in giving back to the Worcester community.

I also spoke with several long time Challenger League players: Krish from Shrewsbury, Tobin from Southborough, and Jay from Framingham. All three of them had nice hits off of Bradlee, and Krish had one of the biggest hits of the day as he drilled the ball down the third base line. Krish said it was a result of him continuing to work on his swing.

Parents were able to watch their kids from the berm. I spoke with the parents of Ryan Love, a longtime Shrewsbury Challenger League player. They were ecstatic about Ryan having the opportunity to take an at bat at Polar Park.

Outstanding volunteers honored

After the players finished batting and running, the Fidrych Foundation announced the honorees of their annual Citizenship Award. The award was given to four individuals who have volunteered as buddies in Fidrych Foundation programs. According to the Foundation’s website, the Citizenship Award is for “young men and women who have actively participated in and advocated for special needs athletic involvement within their surrounding communities.” This year’s winners were Kyle Daunais, Gianni Colonero, Michael Warwick, and Chase Collins.

Kyle and Gianni, both longtime Challenger League buddies, were in attendance. I had the chance to speak with both of them after they received their awards. They were glad the Foundation was so appreciative of their volunteer efforts and were happy to take part in this welcoming community.

Ken’s Foods welcomes Challenger League back

Thanks to Ken’s Foods, all the Challenger League players, buddies, and their families were welcomed back to Polar Park later that day for the game against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, the AAA affiliate of the New York Yankees. The Fidrych Foundation was honored as part of the pregame ceremony. This topped off a fun day for everyone involved in this evolving partnership.

The Fidrych Foundation not only improves the lives of the players, but also gives teenagers in the area a chance to make a difference in their community. I have several friends who have gotten involved either as players or volunteers, and when I played in the Northborough Challenger League for its first five years, I truly saw how much the Foundation did to make the Challenger players feel special.

The WooSox have continued to welcome people from all backgrounds to the ballpark with open arms, and I think it’s amazing that they’re supporting an organization like the Fidrych Foundation.

Making My Mark with the Fidrych Foundation

Today, thanks to The Mark Fidrych Foundation, I was invited to play in their 8th annual charity softball tournament.  They sponsored me and all the friends and family of the Northborough Challenger Baseball League.  Like in past years, it was a great way to put a closing on my Challenger Baseball season. The Fidrych Foundation has sponsored my team for the last 5 years and I am so appreciative to have the opportunity to play organized baseball.

Today’s event, held at Memorial Field and Casey Field in Northborough, was even more exciting than last year’s event.  I played third base on the Challenger/Miracle League team and my dad Ken played with me on the field at first.  He batted after me and you can see us both on the bases below.

I had the opportunity to spend some time with some of my teammates after the game, including NCAA 1989 Final Four basketball star for Illinois, Matthew Schnaderbeck, along with his wife, Catherine, and his two daughters, Jessica and Alexis.  Here’s me with Matthew and his daughters after we had lunch.

I had a lot of fun playing softball and even caught a hot line drive hit right to me at third and also made a few plays throwing to my dad at first.  My teammates and I all got to bat twice, once each inning, so I was happy to get two hits.  After I finished playing, I met up with one of my long time Challenger coaches, Sean Durkin, who has taught me so much over the years and he told me he was proud to see how well I played.

Before leaving, I was very excited to get some photo opportunities with some well-known sports personalities. First, I took a photo with Tessie the Green Monster.  After that, I met up with Women’s Olympic Hockey Gold Medalist Haley Skarupa.  Last but not least, I met up again with sports broadcaster Joe Braverman, who graduated from my high school, Algonquin Regional High School and now I am trying to follow in his footsteps with the same great high school sports coverage that Joe did for four years.  I have already started with “Gonk Knocks” covering the T-Hawks football team and look forward to getting some help from Joe during the year.

I’d like to thank Ann Fidyrich and the entire Fidrych Foundation staff and volunteers for sponsoring me year after year to play baseball and softball in the Spring and Summer.  Today’s event was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to play again in the Spring.