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Game of the Century Will Benefit Voke Students

May 9, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD — Batter up for a good cause!

The Westfield Wheelmen Vintage Base Ball Club will kick off its 2011 season by taking up the bat against the Westfield Vocational Technical High School's baseball squad at Bullens Field to benefit students at the school.

"The main goal of this whole event is to have some fun and support the scholarship funds," Wheelman Captain Dan "Gunner" Genovese said. "It's going to be a great night. There will be some fun, some great food and it's an opportunity for people to spend some money for the kids."

The game has been dubbed the Game of the Century, an appropriate title with the school's alumni planning its 100th anniversary celebration on Nov. 26 at Tekoa Country Club.

The idea for the fund-raiser, Genovese said, came from Wheelmen player Ken "Lumberjack" Toporowski and Westfield Voke Baseball Coach Clem Fucci.

"I wish I could take credit for it, but it was really their idea," Genovese said, adding that the concept of playing baseball for charity was not a new one for Toporowski and the Wheelmen.

When Toporowski was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008, the Wheelmen rallied around him and raised $10,000 through a baseball fund-raiser. Now fully recovered and tumor-free, Toporowski continues to play for the team.

That sparked a movement for the Wheelmen, who made it their goal to not only have fun and play ball, but to help some people along the way.

The Wheelmen also take part in the Angels in the Outfield, an event sponsored by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and will also participate in the Summer Slam Vintage Wiffle Ball Tourney at Fenway Westfield, which benefits ACS, Children's Miracle Network and Redeeming Families, a non-profit that supports families that are planning to or already have adopted children.

The Wheelmen are also supporters of little league baseball programs in Westfield.

"We just started off playing vintage ball and it has become a form of community good will. This organization focuses on philanthropy, like the Free Masons," Genovese said. "There's a lot of fun and satisfaction that comes with doing good things for the community and the community really embraces that."

All proceeds from the game are going to the Michael Gonzales and Scott Prefontaine Scholarships.

The Michael Gonzales Scholarship helps students purchase the tools necessary to perform their trade of choice.

"These kids come out of school and they don't have a lot of money," Genovese said. "You need to have the right tools. These kids have picked their profession and want to get off to a good start."

The Scott Prefontaine Scholarship assists students in paying for user fees for the school's athletics.

"Westfield and the rest of the state have had a hard time funding sports and now there are these user fees. I don't know exactly what they are right now, but I know it gets very expensive for these kids," Genovese said. "It's too bad that there are some kids who have to sit on the sidelines because they can't afford it. There may be some talented kids who aren't getting an opportunity and could even be missing out on a chance for a scholarship that can help them continue their education."

Saturday's game will feature the Wheelmen in their traditional vintage garb and equipment against their counterparts from Westfield Voke, donning modern-day tools of the trade.

"We're going to use our 1886 rules, but let them use their modern equipment," Genovese said. "We'll give them that benefit, but we're not taking it easy on them."

That means the Westfield Voke players will have to be ready for some quirky rules they're not quite used to, including foul balls not counting as strikes and quick pitches.

"The quick pitch is one of my favorites and I wish it was part of today's game," Genovese said. "It prevents things like Derek Jeter adjusting his batting gloves or David Ortiz stepping out of the batter's box and taking a walk after every pitch. If you step out of the box, we're going to throw a pitch and it's going to count."

The youth on the diamond will also be on the lookout for some trickery.

"They might even see some hidden ball tricks. We've become masters at that. You might even see a hidden potato," Genovese said. "When those kids step off the base, they'd better be looking around."

Contests will also be a part of the festivities. A home run derby will start at 5 p.m., allowing participants 10 swings at the fences for $10. A contest in which participants throw numbered hackie sacks at a target on the field — similar to the chuck-a-puck event at a hockey game — will also be conducted, with a prize going to the person who tosses closest to the target.