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Cheektowaga youth organization gives back to fellow ballplayers

Pictured above top, Hamburg’s Dylan Heine makes it safely to first with the aid of his buddy from the Mizuno Braves Alex Ferrel. Directly above, Colin O’Neill scores at Home with the assistance of sister Lauren O’Neill (left) and their “best friend” Alicia Majkut. Photos by David Eckhardt

Mizuno U-13 team visits Hamburg to assist Kyle Reid Memorial Challenger League

When it comes to helping those in need, there is no better choice than to assist one’s peers.

A team of local youth baseball players remained on a diamond in providing their support to others.

Every year, the Mizuno Braves 13-and-under team chooses a group or organization to lend a helping hand to.

Mike Jaskier and his boys decided this summer to visit Hamburg to buddy up with the players of the Kyle Reid Memorial Challenger League on Wednesday at Hamburg High School.

“We wanted to do something a little bit different than what we usually do and do it along the lines of baseball,” explained the Braves head coach.

The Challenger League provides an opportunity for children with special needs to play baseball.

Family, friends and volunteers generally buddy up with participants every Wednesday to assist them, whether they are in the field catching fly balls or guiding them along the basepaths.

On July 24, it was the Mizuno Braves in full uniform who joined in on all of the fun.

“The kids have been really sweet and it’s been fun helping them,” said 12-year-old Josh Jensen, a Mizuno Brave from West Seneca East Middle School who partnered with Whitney Bonerb and Deven McFarland-Marino during the event.
Members of the Kyle Reid family stand with Cheektowaga Mizuno Braves head coach Mike Jaskier (far right) as he presents a check to the Challenger League named in memory of Kyle. League coordinator Mike O’Donnell also poses with the group (third from the right in the back row). Photos by David Eckhardt

Mizuno also included the Challenger League in its annual fundraiser that was held weeks before the game. Though, finally being able to team up for the baseball game was worth even more than the $300 that Mizuno raised for the organization.

In its 14th season, the Hamburg Challenger League is the only one of its kind in the southtowns. Tonawanda has been home to a challenger league that founder Mike Kaney and others used as a model to help create the Kyle Reid Memorial Challenger League in 2000.

Battling cancer since he was six-years-old, Kyle Reid passed away on Dec. 4, 1998. His mother and father, Mary Lou and Greg Reid, put together a 5K run and golf tournament in the summer of 1999.

They donated $2,500 to the Hamburg Junior Baseball League before they decided to start a league of their own.

“He lived a full heck of a life in all those 13 years,” Mary Lou said softly. “He never gave up. He was just one special kid. I’m blessed to have him.”
Challenger League player Colin O’Neill eyes up a pitch thrown by longtime volunteer Mike Kaney. Photos by David Eckhardt

Every Wednesday from May into August there are three games an evening. Children ages 6-11 play at 5:30 p.m., 11-18 takes the field 6:30 p.m. while the 18-and-ups play at 7:30 p.m.

League coordinator Mike O’Donnell took over that post last year, but has been fortunate enough to see the smiles on participant’s faces on the diamond for five seasons.

“For the kids, it means the world to them,” said O’Donnell. “These games are their World Series. Giving them something that they normally wouldn’t be able to do. That’s what this league is about.”

The players from the Challenger League seemed to have a ball playing side-by-side and forming a camaraderie with fellow ballplayers that day. The smiles on players’ faces were even a little more wider than usual.

Of the many organizations they get to help throughout the summer months each year, players and organizers from the Mizuno Braves truly had a soft spot for this one.

“We thought about this and it was near and dear to our hearts,” coach Jaskier said. “Every kid deserves the chance to play ball and this organization gives them a chance to. We’re just honored to be a part of it.”

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