For six hours on Friday night members of the Howell Police Department and Fire Departments took over the home of the Lakewood BlueClaws. It was not for a massive training exercise, but rather a fundraiser for two local families.
The Second Annual Reese Behnken Charity Home Run Derby and Softball Game pitted police vs firefighters in a nine inning softball contest. By the time the game ended, Reese's dad, Rich, helped lead the fire department to a 13-3 rout while his family watched on.
When the game first started it looked like the police team would pick up the win as Joe Markulic cracked an RBI double off the left field wall to drive in Donnie Franklin for a 1-0 advantage. The score stayed that way until the top of the fourth inning when Andy Kudrick drove in Markulic to make it a two-run game.
The lead did not last long though and the firefighters clawed back into the game in a fitting way as Behnken drove in Lou Memmolo with a single to left.
The game really started to slip away from the police department in the bottom of the sixth inning when the fire department reeled off five runs. Behnken also drove in Memmolo again in the bottom of the seventh to put his team ahead for good.
In the end, though, the game was not about the final score, it was about helping two local families. For Reese's family, it helps to pay for her treatment of a rare genetic disorder known as Metachromatic Leukodystrophy. The other half of the money goes to the family of Logan James Parker, the nephew of Howell Police Officer John Tucker. Logan was diagnosed at the age of 3 with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
For Reese's mom, Kim Brown, seeing the community come together to support each other and her family made for a very memorable night. "MLD is an awful disease, but at these times you see that it does bring out the good in people too," she said. "You have police and you have fire and they're against each other. Usually there's competition between the two of them so it's nice to see them pull together and come together as a team."
It is because of nights like this that Brown said she is able to see positives coming out of what is in many other ways a very difficult situation.
"There's a lot of bad stuff that comes along with it, but there's a lot of good stuff that came out of it too," she said.
As for the players on the field, Markulic said that while his team lost, they were happy to be a part of such a worthy cause. "Obviously, we lost, but it's always a good time playing the fire department," he said. " Brothers in blue, brothers in red, we play together, we work together so it's always a good time and it's for a good cause."
Last year, the fire department won by a much more manageable 9-7 score, so Markulic said they know that his department will likely hear about this loss for at least the rest of the year. But to help the two families made it worth it.
"It's about having fun and if I can score a couple runs for us it's always fun," he said. "They'll rip us a little bit, but it's all in fun."
As for the Behnken on the field, Rich said the night was especially meaningful for him to see everyone come out for his family. "It's really nice for everyone to come out and show support," he said.
He also said the night was not just about his family.
"It's great having all the kids here. My kids, all the other fire fighters and police man's kids. It's nice to see the kids out here and the families. That's what tonight's all about. It's about all the families and giving back for the kids."
Now that his team has won both the games after several years of rainouts, Behnken said they will definitely enjoy the experience a little bit more.
"We'll rub it in a little bit, but the bottom line is we're all here for the same reason and we all have fun," he said.
The fact that they were playing on a field where future Major Leaguers also roam on a regular basis is not lost on the players of both teams according to Behnken.
"We all don't get to play on fields like this every day," he said. "For us to come out here and play a game that we all love and do it in an environment like this for the reason that we did is a really good feeling."
Before the game started the home run derby was held, and for the second straight year Wayne McGee emerged victorious. With a storm on the way, the conditions for knocking balls out of the park was not ideal, but McGee still managed to clear the fence with three shots. While not as much as the seven he hit last year, it was enough to help him emerge victorious.
For more information on Reese's condition you can go to the website of the Stennis Foundation. Information on Reese's story can also be found here. The Behnken family has also made a video that can be seen here.