NY Mets buddy up with Wheelchair Softball Players Print E-mail
Written by John Hamre   

 

NEW YORK -- Billy Hannigan is a lifelong Mets fan from Queens who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the club's contest against the Pirates on Tuesday.

But several hours before he took the mound, Hannigan taught some of his favorite Mets players a slightly different game -- wheelchair softball.

"No, not at all," Mets pitcher Dillon Gee said when asked if it was as easy as it looked. "These guys, they make it look easy. But they're so good at it."

 Several Mets players and coaches joined dozens of members of the Wheelchair Sports Federation on Tuesday afternoon in Lot D outside Citi Field as part of the Mets' and Citi's "Teammates in the Community Week" program. The parking lot was converted to a wheelchair softball field, with home plate from Shea Stadium serving as second base.

 

"To have them play alongside us, it doesn't get any better," Hannigan said. "I'm grinning ear to ear. It's a nice day. Who's got it better than me?"

That optimistic approach has served Hannigan and many like him well. In the Army from 1992-95, Hannigan was injured in a motorcycle accident 16 years ago.

John Hamre, president of WSF, has helped bring awareness to the disabled community, offering triathlons, tennis and football, among other sports.

Last August, Citi Field became the first Major League ballpark to host the National Wheelchair Softball Tournament, with 14 teams from across the country competing during a three-day span at Lots F and D. This year's national tournament will take place from Aug. 11-13 in Omaha, Neb.

 

Hamre helps with the teams throughout the area. The Mets are in their 10th year sponsoring a team.

On Tuesday, Carlos Beltran, Scott Hairston and several other Mets signed autographs and took pictures with WSF members before trying their hands at wheelchair softball.

Pitching coach Dan Warthen tossed underhand pitches to Beltran and Gee, who learned how difficult it is to swing and hit while confined to a chair.

"It's great," Gee said. "It's a lot of fun for us to come out here and play this game that they've been playing all these years and teach us a little bit how to do it."

The 40-year-old Hannigan, now the director for adaptive sports at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, N.Y., said he was taken aback by how big some of the players were after watching them so many times on television.

Hamre was thankful for the Mets' support.

"It means a lot to the organization and to these sports groups," Hamre said. "These guys sacrifice every day more than most, and this appearance from the Mets players is very rewarding."

Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 02 June 2011 04:26