Boy burned in blaze back at bat

Firefighter Antonio Velez (r.) prepares to throw the ceremonial first pitch of the Bayside Little League season to Jesse Iacovetta (l.), a 12-year-old boy he saved from a fire in Auburndale last year, while Jeni Stewart (c.) looks on. Photo by Ben Rosenzweig
By Connor Adams Sheets

Saturday was a celebration for the Forest Hills community as Jesse Iacovetta returned to the baseball diamond for Opening Day of the 2011 Forest Hills Little League season.

The 12-year-old boy narrowly escaped from a raging fire Jan. 19 with second-degree burns, and in the ensuing months the neighborhood rallied to support the youngster, raising money to help his family pay for his medical care through the “Team Jesse” movement.

That effort’s worth was proved Saturday afternoon, when the long-haired pitcher — a more youthful doppelganger of San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum — returned to the field in his Forest Hills Little League uniform to catch the first pitch of the spring season from the man who saved him.

That man, Firefighter Antonio Velez of Engine 320 at 36-18 Francis Lewis Blvd. in Auburndale, ran into Iacovetta’s home in Auburndale that fateful day to find the badly burned young man struggling to keep away from the roaring flames. Fire marshals later determined that Iacovetta, who splits his time between his divorced parents’ homes in Auburndale and Forest Hills, had accidentally started the fire with a hair dryer while getting ready for school.

JT Iacovetta, Jesse’s older brother who was away with the military at the time of the fire, said he was ecstatic to see his brother back in action.

“It’s great to see him doing better,” he said. “Every day I just think about if I was home, what I could have done. Now that he’s doing great, it takes a little weight off my shoulders I hope he strikes everybody out.”

Velez seconded the sentiments of everyone in attendance, saying he was proud of the youngster for recovering and returning to the game he loves, but he repeatedly reiterated that he did not want to take all the credit for Iacovetta’s rescue.

“It was a team effort. I want to thank all the firefighters who worked together to save him,” he said.

Nestor Melendez, a coach for the traveling team Iacovetta played for last year in the Forest Hills Little League, said it was difficult for the community when the fire took place.

“It was heartbreaking for everybody. We cried for the family, all of us together. And now we’re so happy to see him doing well,” he said. “The whole Forest Hills community is for Jesse and his family and we support them.”

Donations may be made to help the Iacovetta family by sending checks to Forest Hills Little League, Jesse Iacovetta Fund, 66-01 Fleet St., Forest Hills, NY 11375.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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