By Gethin Coolbaugh, The Needham Times
It was only fitting that a spaceman highlighted the action at the second annual Needham Rockets 50-inning charity baseball game.
That spaceman was none other than legendary Red Sox left-handed pitcher Bill “Spaceman” Lee, who traveled to Needham from his home in Vermont to take part in the festivities.
“Today’s a special day,” said Steve Geraci, a 1982 graduate of Needham High and member of the baseball team who organized the game and idolized Lee as a kid. “I was just playing catch (with him) and talking how to pick off people from first base, how he throws his curveball. I’m living out a little dream here on the Needham baseball field.”
Lee, who had a lifetime record of 119-90 in 14 major league seasons (10 with the Red Sox) and is Boston’s all-time leader in games pitched by a lefty with 321, talked with players, coaches and fans prior to the game and even pitched for a few innings.
“A lot of carbon coming out of my body,” Lee said after pitching. “It just keeps me loose.”
For the second straight year, past, present and future members of the Needham High baseball team gathered at Memorial Field in Needham for the special charity game, which raises money for the Rockets Diamond Club to purchase new equipment and lower user fees.
“I think the longer we do it, the more organized it can get,” said Brad Holland, a senior outfielder on the Needham varsity team. “It shows a lot of promise.”
The game is not a full 50 innings. It features a one-swing-per-batter format that allows for a quicker pace, with each inning consisting of nine outs.
“If you get a hit, you get on,” said Geraci. “If you don’t, you go back on the bench and wait for your next turn.”
The team is also trying to raise money in the name of former Rockets baseball player Jake Borson, who died in a tragic accident in February.
“Jake was totally into (the game) last year,” said longtime Needham baseball coach John Freitas. “He played every position possible. My big hope is for kids to volunteer their time, whether it’s one hour or day, in his memory to volunteer and help the handicapped.”
Freitas had been in touch with Lee after ordering some specialized bats from his Old Hickory Bat Company. Freitas asked Lee, who was set to be in town for a pregame ceremony at Fenway Park prior to the Red Sox-Cubs game honoring Red Sox alumni, to participate in the benefit.
“We bought a lot of bats (from Lee’s company) with the ‘JB’ on the barrel (in honor of Borson),” said Freitas. “My next thought was, ‘Gee, we have this 50-inning game, is there a chance you could come by and throw some innings?’ And he said ‘yeah'."
“Everybody wants to hit against me,” Lee said. “Everybody and all their fathers said they could hit me, so this is their opportunity.”
Planning for this year’s charity game began in January, with Geraci and company sorting out the lineup of alumni that could participate and arrange sponsorship for the event.
While there weren’t drastic changes to the game this year, Geraci made some adjustments based on what he learned from the inaugural game last year.
“We learned last year to get more people involved early,” said Geraci. “There’re a lot of good people in the Needham community. We had a silent auction for the first time – we have uniforms from vintage years, donations of Red Sox tickets, a Dustin Pedroia signed jersey – so we got some really nice stuff this year.”
The 50-inning game creates a fun and inviting atmosphere, but Geraci would ultimately like to have a more traditional format.
“The vision is to have a pure game, a real baseball game of high school and college age players,” said Geraci. “It’s a little tricky to time it, because the guys are in (state tournament) and then people start taking off for the summer, (so) it’s always a delicate balance.”
“But this is a great start. We’ve got live pitching today. We’ve got the guys taking the swings, and people having fun playing ball.”
To make a donation, write a check payable to Needham High School Athletics/Baseball and mail it to Needham High School, Attn: John Freitas, 609 Webster St., Needham, MA, 02494.
STORY LINK: http://needham.wickedlocal.com/article/20110525/NEWS/305259509/?Start=2