Baseball scrimmages for pediatric hearts

Eight-year-old Jack Foley poses with outfielder Connor Levchuck after throwing the first pitch of Vassar’s scrimmage last Saturday. The event benefited the Gift of Life International. Courtesy of Matt Righter

Baseball in October means many things to many people. Playoffs. Championships. Legacies. But for a young heroic boy named Jack, it meant a chance to pitch for one of his favorite teams: the Vassar Brewers. The Brewer’s baseball team concluded their fall ball season with an inter-squad
scrimmage that supported children with heart conditions, like Jack.

The squad decided last year to begin using their fall scrimmages to draw awareness to causes like this one, with benefits reaching beyond the team itself. This year, Head Coach Matthew Righter and the team wanted to focus on something that hit a little closer to home: pediatric heart disease. “We had a few members of our team whose families were directly affected by pediatric heart disease…We also have a player’s parent who is a cardiac surgeon who’s done a lot with the organization in the past,” Righter explained.

Dr. Sean Levchuck, father of senior outfielder Connor “Chuck” Levchuck, has been involved with Gift of Life International, a pediatric heart disease foundation, for many years, which provided a great opportunity for the team to use that connection to step in and raise awareness.

The foundation, founded in 1975, helps children from underprivileged families all over the world receive proper medical treatment for heart conditions. They have treated over 35,000 children across 80 countries around the globe (Gift of Life, “Our 35,000 Child Muhammad,” 07.23.2019) (Gift of Life, “Countries where we heal little hearts,” 2019). The Gift of Life develops sustainable pediatric cardiac programs that administer screenings and carry out surgical and training missions in order to give life-saving treatment to those that need it.

Through the connection with Dr. Levchuck, Righter and the Vassar Community Service Committee were able to coordinate the scrimmage event with Gift of Life, last Saturday, Oct. 5. The special day included mini-events to keep the crowd engaged, a concession table and merchandise, with all proceeds going to the foundation. Chuck stated: “[T]he team ended up raising over $1,000, not including online donations, for The Gift of Life, which is a huge success in and of itself. The most successful part of the day, though, was seeing so many individuals around campus come together to support such a great cause.” Righter added: “Our main goal was to raise awareness and a little bit of money for the cause … We also had hundreds of people follow along through our social media outlets.” Dr. Levchuck also donated a free surgery to The Gift of Life to be performed in the near future.

To top it all off, the team invited baseball superfan Jack Foley, a former patient of Dr. Levchuck, to throw out the first pitch of the game. Jack, an eight-year-old from the local area, is a baseball and hockey fanatic, and his mother posted a video of him practicing for his first pitch on her Twitter account.

The Vassar Devils also made an appearance, performing the National Anthem before the game and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch. Chuck indicated that the collaboration made the day even more memorable for the Vassar community, adding “Getting involved with another awesome group on campus we hope will help promote a mutually inclusive and supportive environment between athletic teams and other groups on campus.”

Returning to the baseball side of things, the scrimmage was a nail-biter that came down to the bottom of the ninth. The squad was divided into two teams: Team East (players that originated from the U.S. East Coast) and Team World (everyone else). It was tied 0-0 going at the end when first-year Christian Baaki hit a walk off single that allowed senior Rob Pinataro [full disclosure: Pinataro is Managing Editor of The Miscellany News] to score the winning run for Team East.

The main focus of the event, helping Gift of Life and those affected by pediatric heart disease, was successful. Yet for the team, the success of the event meant more than dollars and awareness—a chance to
demonstrate their emerging culture. “Any time you get to play for something bigger than yourself I think it helps to bring the team closer together,” Righter explained. Righter also commended his athletes and the planning committee for their enthusiastic efforts to make the day a success for all those involved.

Chuck added more on what the event meant to the team, saying: “I think the biggest thing outside of raising awareness for the issue was doing so in a way that brings pride to the Vassar Community. We’ve put a lot of focus in the last few years on getting involved with the community and spreading messages of positivity and appreciation.” It’s obvious from Chuck’s words the team is striving to embody their mission statement: Be a championship program built on a foundation of passion, tradition and trust that brings pride to the Vassar community.

After having a successful day of competition, collaboration and cheer for all parties involved, you can say it truly was a beautiful day to play some ball.

For more information about the Gift of Life, please visit www.giftoflifeinternational.org

Last Saturday, the Vassar baseball team hosted a scrimmage for charity, with all proceeds going to Gift of Life International, an organization dedicated to helping underprivileged children with heart conditions. Some of those children, along with other local kids and community members, were present at the game. All took advantage of the merchandise and concessions being sold, benefitting the Gift of Life. Also in attendance were the Vassar Devils, who sang before the game and during the seventh inning stretch.
All photos courtesy of Matt Righter

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