The New York Mets hosted the Wheelchair Sports Federation for its annual softball game at the Citi Field parking lot Wednesday. In addition to the game, a softball clinic was held for more than 100 schoolchildren with disabilities. They were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Met and Mets alumni Todd Zeile.
According to Wheelchair Sports Federation President John Hamre, the Mets have hosted them for these annual events almost every year since 1999. Since Citi Field opened in 2009, the games have been played where the Shea Stadium infield once stood.
“There are adaptive sports programs all around the country,” Hamre said. “It’s important that professional franchises [like the Mets] are supporting those teams. We definitely have a relationship with [the Mets] and they’ve been big supporters of our efforts.”
The games are played on the lot because it allows for the players to move quicker and with more control on the wheelchairs. Hamre noted that one of the few times that the event couldn’t be held since the Mets started hosting them was in 2009, when Shea Stadium was still being taken down.
The players, both young and old, often look forward to this annual event. They also appreciate the support from the Mets organization in allowing them to play there.
“It’s incumbent to me because I feel the Mets understand the disabled community needs to be welcomed,” Jaime Zelaya, one of the players, said. “There’s a safe haven that [disabled people] can go to. Citi Field is broadening the horizons of acceptance and inclusion. We feel like we are part of the community.”
For Joe LeMar, who has been playing for the Wheelchair Sports Federation since 2008, being able to help the kids at the clinic is critical to growing the game. He also noted that some of these kids could end up becoming the next generation of athletes in leagues for people with disabilities.
“I’m a firm believer that sports are for everyone,” LeMar said. “If we can go and adapt to different sports to have everybody be active, that’s what it’s all about. This is that next group that fills in. Hopefully some of them will want to go and be part of teams that compete around the world. It’s all about giving back. This sport has taken me around the world and now it’s about giving back to the next generation.”
Meanwhile, Zeile, a former Mets infielder, said he was eager to take part in the softball clinic after enjoying it so much last year. The experience for Zeile continues to be very rewarding.
“Even the littlest things can create such a huge smile for these kids,” Zeile said. “I don’t think most of them know or care who I am or what I’m doing here, but it’s fun to see their faces when they do something different than they normally get to do get a sense of accomplishment.”