Playing on the same field that major league stars like Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard have honed their skills on Freehold Township and Howell police officers and firefighters came together to benefit two local families.
By the time the night was over the Howell squad had come away with a dominating win but everyone involved agreed that the final score took a back seat to the overall good the game did. "It's just about bringing guys from Freehold Township and Howell together for a good cause to help out two kids in need," said Jamie Burdge of the Freehold Township police department.
The game benefitted the family of Reese Behnken, a young girl diagnosed with Metachromatic Leukodystrophy and Evan Perkowski who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
Burdge is a longtime friend of Behnken's father and Howell firefighter Rich. This is the third year the game has been held to benefit the local family and Behnken said they very much appreciate the support over the years.
This marked the first time the two towns squared off at FirstEnergy Park and the second that another family benefitted from the game. "Any way we can help other people at this point is kind of important," he said. "It was a good night."
Friday night the temperature in Lakewood was in the 40's which Behnken said might have contributed to a smaller than hoped for crowd. It was still better weather than the torrential downpour that greeted the players when they first tried to hold the game earlier this summer. "Unfortunately Mother Nature didn't like us this year," he noted.
The weather may not have cooperated but that did not diminish the spirit of the players on the field including Southard firefighter Chris Jackson who picked up the win for the Howell team. "We just came out here to have a good time and try to raise some money for the family to help them out as best we can," he said.
During the day Jackson is the Code Enforcement Officer for the township but said it was fun to stand in the same batters box that Howard stood in just a few months ago during a rehab assignment. "It's special coming out here to play," he said. "It's not often a softball player gets to come to a professional baseball stadium. You hit some balls and you come out here to try to hit some balls over the fence."
The first two years the game was held the Howell firefighters emerged victorious but this time everyone got to celebrate a win and keep bragging rights until next time around.
Behnken said regardless of who won it was a good night for everyone. "The scoreboard really doesn't matter. We came out here and we all had fun." After nine innings of competing in the 8 p.m. game he admitted with a laugh, "We're all tired."