Wednesday, October 01, 2014

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Wheelchair Softball Tourney Takes Place In Queens

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TWC News: Wheelchair Softball Tourney Takes Place In Queens
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Major League Baseball's wheelchair softball tournament took place Saturday just outside Citi Field. NY1's Rocco Vertuccio filed the following report.

When a car accident paralyzed Joe Mendez 20 years ago, he thought his sports-playing days were over.

"It took me a long time to be able to handle the ball, to maneuver the chair and stuff like that," he said. "It takes time and effort."

He eventually re-learned to play softball, on wheels. He is now involved with the Wheelchair Sports Federation, helping others in wheelchairs rediscover sports.

"Sports is everything in my life," he said. "It brought me out of being reclusive. I am now involved in a lot of things."

The Mets started the wheelchair softball tournament with the federation 11 years ago. Teams from Queens, the Bronx, Chicago and Boston competed this year. Each is sponsored by a Major League Baseball team, including the Mets and the Yankees. When those two teams play, it creates a subway series like no other."

"It's basically therapy for the mind, soul and body," said player Rick Stiefvater. "People stay home sometimes when they get injured and feel sorry for themselves. That's not me. I've always been a fighter."

"It means a lot," said John Hamre, the president of the Wheelchair Sports Federation. "It means it's not the end. There is hope to have the ability to do things further on."

The game is modified a little for the wheelchairs: the softballs are bigger and softer, they play on a hard surface and the field is smaller. But the competitive attitude here is just like any other sport.

"The only thing that is holding us back from doing the regular games is our ability to walk," said player Edy Lopez. "But the competition and the drive and the stamina and the banging is still there. We just do it on wheels."

The Mets ended up beating the Yankees two games to none. Bragging rights aside, on this field, the message is more important than the score.

"There is life after a disability or being in a wheelchair," Mendez said. "If you have the desire to learn it, you can."

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