Softball clinic brings smiles

In the shadow of Shea Stadium, dozens of children recently gathered to play softball. There were no set teams and the game lasted a little over 20 minutes, but there seemed to be only smiles on the faces of the wheelchair softball clinic participants.
“My favorite part was when I had to catch the balls and I had to throw them and I had to run around the bases,” said 10-year-old Ashley Arroyo, who is in a wheelchair. Arroyo, a fifth grader at P.S. 135 in Queens Village, played second base during the game. She said her favorite Met depended on the day, but lately she has been rooting for third baseman David Wright.
Eight-year-old Ajay Standish, who is also in a wheelchair, picked slugger Carlos Delgado as his favorite player. “Let’s go Mets!” he chanted, eagerly awaiting the return of Mr. Met, who signed autographs and posed for pictures with the kids during the hour-long event on Friday, September 21.
In addition, I.S. 227 sixth graders Zainab Adelekan, 10, and Peter Gonzalez, 11, beamed as they clutched a signed softball and danced for the Amazin’s mascot.
“It’s nice to get the kids involved, sharing their softball skills with not only their schoolmates but with adults,” said Diane Kuliper, an Adaptive Physical Education teacher from I.S. 227 in East Elmhurst.
More than 30 children from intermediate school, some in wheelchairs and some with other physical disabilities, turned out for the game. Most stayed to watch the adult teams play, each of which is sponsored by a Major League Baseball franchise. The tournament is also run in partnership with the New York Mets, the United Spinal Association and the city’s Department of Education (DOE).
Meanwhile, at a diamond painted into the parking lot, where the “Mets” faced off against the “Oakland A’s,” Great Neck resident Robin Portnoy and her three boys, 10-year-old Ben, 8-year-old Jacob, and 7-year-old Mark, cheered from the sidelines.
Portnoy said she brought her kids to see the games in memory of her son, Zach - Ben’s twin - who died in February. Zach suffered from a brain tumor and had two strokes, forcing him to use a wheelchair.
“I take [my children] to all of these things that would have been important in Zach’s life if he was still here,” she said, explaining that she teaches her children that nothing is impossible. “I always was telling him, ‘Zach you can do anything.’”
For their cheering, the boys were rewarded with the chance to be the “Mets’” and “Yankees’” batboys during the wheelchair matches, and Ben dutifully picked up the stray bats, while wearing a photo and inscription to his brother on his T-shirt.
“[Zach’s] body isn’t here, but his spirit and our love for him still is here,” Portnoy said. “If [Zach] was here, I would like him to see this too.”

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