What’s cooler than a wiffle ball tournament? How about a wiffle ball tournament that raises half of a million dollars for charity! At my friend Paul Chiasson’s insistence, this past Sunday I had
the pleasure of being at The Travis Roy Foundation “Little Fenway” Wiffle Ball Tournament with Paul, his son Brandon and my son Steve. I can’t tell you how much fun we had while we were supporting a great cause but I will say that you should definitely take the opportunity to check this place out. Imagine being at a mini replica of Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and The Field of Dreams…all visible from one location. It’s absolutely magical! While I was there I had the pleasure to talk to Pat O’Connor, the man behind the dream and how this amazing event all came to pass. Little Fenway Website
“We’re huge baseball fans and our favorite park is Fenway, we used to take the kids there all the time”. Pat talked about how he and his younger brothers took a multi week trip in 92 to see games at all the major league teams and parks. “We rented a van with unlimited miles. That was quite the trip”. But back to Fenway. “We had this idea about putting a field on our 11 acre property and wiffle ball was the best way to do it….that way more people would get the opportunity to enjoy it and maybe hit one over the green monster.” They broke ground in October 2000 and the mini replica was ready for the first wiffle ball party in July of 2001. “We sent out flyers, made up Red Sox shirts and expected about 75 people or so….well we got about 200! The event was planned to last about 3 hours and went on until dark and a friend of ours even had two F16s do a flyover. It was wild!” Later that summer they, they planned on a recognition event for the Little League kids that went to Williamsport when 911 hit so they changed it to raise money for New York. That event raised $1400.
Afterwards Pat decided that they could do other successful fundraisers because, “we knew right after we built it that this place was kind of magical!” They partnered with a local radio station and funded events for a girl that needed a kidney transplant, a man that was in a boating accident and Vermont military assistance. They also held events to support breast cancer, ALS and other charities.
“Then I read Travis’ book, 11 Seconds, and was inspired by the story so I decided to call the foundation”. They scheduled a tournament and “that first year we had seven teams including ‘The Boston Beef’, ‘Hot Damn’, ‘The Staten Island Yankees” and ‘Reverse the Curse’ who after 2004 changed their name to ‘The Curse Lifted’. All four of those teams return to play every year”. In spite of the fact that it rained all day, they still had a great turnout, raised about $4000 for the Travis Roy Foundation, most of the teams vowed to return annually… and in Pat’s own words, “we knew we had something special”.
Initially, each team paid a $300 entry fee and that made up the bulk of the funds but Pat knew that he could do way better so they changed the concept; all of the teams do their own fundraising throughout the year and donate that money to the tournament proceeds. Revenue kept increasing and then Pat had the idea to add ‘Little Wrigley’ so they could put more teams in the tournament. Somewhere along the line, the one day event turned into a three day weekend, they added more teams, more sponsors, and this year added ‘Little Field of Dreams’. You have no idea what a feeling it is until you actually see it. My sentiments were echoed by Pat and all of the devoted members of the committee.
“If there’s anything I’d like to say it’s that you really have to be here to feel the magic!” It’s no doubt magic that has translated into over $500,000.00 this year alone and over 3 million since it’s inception. Not bad for a little game of wiffle ball.
“This is the coolest place on earth for this weekend. By the way, just two words, the garage” as he points to a Travis Roy Foundation Little Fenway Wiffle Ball Tournament tee shirt. “Fifteen bucks and they’re going fast”. He wasn’t kidding, when I got to the garage they were sold out! Tim bounced around like a super ball for the whole day we were there, making sure all of his charges were at their appointed tasks… the disposition of a golden retriever and the precision of a Swiss watch. As the field coordinator, Tim has to line up all of the volunteers for the wiffle ball tournament, which by the way is no easy task. Anything that happens under the tents is Tim’s responsibility. DJ’s, scorekeepers, announcers etc. to the tune of 600 slots for the 104 games played in this year’s tourney. Thanks to Tim’s attention to detail it ran like a well oiled machine. 28 teams, from Vermont to Staten Island (the furthest distance any of the teams traveled), and several teams from Massachusetts, 17 officials; all of whom are Vermont certified referees, scorebook keepers and announcers ran on a timetable closer than two coats of paint.
Fundraisers, while all for good causes, don’t generally garner an excess of media coverage….this one’s different. Maybe it’s because this is such a massive undertaking and planning for it will literally start when the last guest leaves on Sunday night…maybe because it raises so much money (over 3 million since it’s inception)… or maybe the fact that it’s for such a good cause. I was fortunate to run into Stephen Watson, the sports anchor at WPTZ and got his views on the tourney.
As I was marveling at the replica fields, I just couldn’t believe how it felt. “It’s really cool,” said Watson. “Every kid grew up playing wiffle ball at some point or another, and to play at some of the most iconic baseball fields in history, it’s pretty amazing to see. They really are identical replicas. I’ve been out to Wrigley a couple of times and there’s the ivy on the wall and the scoreboard…the green monster at Fenway and even the Citgo sign that overlooks center field”. “Pat O’Connor, the owner of this complex puts a lot of time and money into it! Building the ‘Field of Dreams’ this year was obviously a big investment but you come out here and you see why he does it…..there’s so many people that are so happy!
Did you happen to see the viral video of Connor Fleming leaping into the bullpen to make a fabulous catch at little Fenway? I asked Steve if he got the money shot on that one. “I wasn’t filming at the time but the good folks at Pack Network were kind enough to let us use the video. It was a great catch and the fact that it went viral was such great exposure for the Travis Roy Foundation”. I asked him what he likes the most about the tournament. “I think it’s the number of people that come together for a common cause….and it raises so much money. I talked to Travis and he said that thirteen years ago when the tournament first started, he would never have imagined it would turn out like this!” He continued, “To have your health is so important…you see someone like Travis who had it all taken away, yet he has such a good head on his shoulders…it’s really inspiring to see!”
“I know it sounds pretty cliche, but everybody’s winning out here, even if you’re not winning on the field…everyone is having so much fun…just to come out here and see these fields! And it’s true, you can’t really get a feel for it unless you see it!”
Some of the volunteers that are so critical are the unsung heroes that don’t get to watch the tournament. The dedicated women that run the concession in the garage at Pat’s house come in on Friday and don’t leave till Sunday night and are responsible for all of the souvenirs, tee shirts, candy bars etc. that get sold. Judy Galdi, the
head of that branch of the tournament, brought me up to speed on her role and the significance of the Jet Blue tee shirts. “We have been so fortunate to have Jet Blue as a major sponsor. They contribute a large amount of money to the foundation and also to building and maintaining the fields and we’re very grateful. We also get a lot of the materials donated and that really helps. I don’t think we could put a figure on what all of this costs…but it’s a lot”.
As a member of the team for twelve of the thirteen years of the tournament, she won’t get rookie of the year honors, but she is highly valued and serves on the steering committee which meets all throughout the year. “There’s about fifteen of us and it’s the best committee I’ve ever worked on and I’ve done a lot of volunteer work!” She and her partner Tanya Carpenter, both former hockey moms, met Pat years ago when they were all ‘hockey parents’. “We’ve known Pat since the hockey days and that’s how we got involved. It’s a lot of work but it’s one weekend and I tell my whole family not to plan anything on this date because I have to be at my tournament”.
That led to a funny anecdote about how her son met Travis Roy and exclaimed, “My mom runs a tournament for you”…later, when he told Judy of the account she said, “It’s not my tournament, I’m just one of the members”…”But mom, you always call it YOUR tournament!” Well Judy and Travis both got a laugh over that. She went on to tell me, “Once you come here and then meet Travis, well you’re hooked and I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be for this weekend.”
Travis Roy is a former BU hockey player, motivational speaker, artist, writer and inspiration. He is the only player in BU history to have his number retired. His book, 11 Seconds: A Story of Tragedy, Courage and Triumph, tells the story of his accident and life, coping with the changes since his injury both physically and psychologically. He may be somewhat limited physically, but the man is unstoppable in his quest to recover from his spinal damage and help others with spinal injuries. The Travis Roy Foundation has raised and donated millions to the study of spinal chord injuries and to help the victims and families affected with spinal chord damage. Travis spends half of the year in Colchester, Vermont and the other half in Boston. He is heavily involved in the ‘Little Fenway’ Wiffle Ball Tournament. Watch the video for Travis’ story.
If you like this story please share it so we can help Travis raise more money for spinal chord research and help the victims of this type of injury.
Travis Roy Foundation Little Fenway Wiffle Ball Tournament UVBA.org