Sports brings comfort to Newtown (Conn.), beyond

PAWTUCKET, R.I. – Never underestimate the healing power of sports.

That was never more evident than on Saturday when Newtown (Conn.) High played Tolman (R.I.) High in a non-league baseball game at McCoy Stadium -- home of the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate .

“It can help get you back to doing some sort of routine … to doing something you love around people you really care about,” Newtown head coach Matt Memoli said after Tolman beat his Nighthawks, 5-3. “My wife and I moved there [in June, 2011]. I taught all of these kids because I teach in the middle school and I coach them now in high school.

“After everything that happened, I’ve always had a great sense of pride for the town. But it’s overwhelming the way people have responded. It does bring people together."

When Memoli mentioned “everything that happened” he was referring to the horrendous events of Dec. 14 and the tragic deaths that occurred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The idea to play Newtown was the idea of Tolman coach Theo Murray. But the purpose wasn’t just to play a baseball game. It also served as a fund raiser with all proceeds being donated to the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Program which provides financial help for emergency responders, medical and mental health professionals and Sandy Hook Elementary School employees who suffered a mental or emotional impairment because of the crisis that occurred last December.

A crowd of nearly 1,000 viewed the game, which raised a grand total of $8,500. And that figure doesn’t include the $600 Murray raised from various sponsors plus the $500 donation by Tolman’s athletic department.

In addition, Dattco, the bus company utilized by the Pawtucket Red Sox, donated its services to transport the Nighthawks from Newtown to Pawtucket and back home.

On top of all this, the four umpires donated their time and the PawSox hosted a post-game barbeque for both teams.

“Dattco donated their services in honor of the Newtown kids,” PawSox President Mike Tamburro said. “[Tolman athletic director] John Scanlon and Theo called us late January and asked us if we would host this event. It took us about a second to say ‘Yes.’ It’s just made darn, good sense.

“If we could bring a smile to the face of that community in this small way, we thought the idea needed to be embraced. Watching those kids get off the bus and walk onto this field at 9:30 this morning, they were like walking on a cloud. It made it all worthwhile.”

Tolman (4-2) led 5-1 entering the top of the seventh when Newtown (3-4) rallied for two runs and eventually left the bases loaded when the final out was recorded.

The Nighthawks’ ability to rally, in the opinion of senior Mike Koch, reflected the strength of the community as well as that of the team.

“Going on strength of community, the way we came back in the last inning basically shows how our community is especially after what happened,” Koch said. “We all came back together. We all fought back and we’re trying to make the best of what we have.

“That’s the way it’s been in Newtown. We’re extremely close as friends. When we come back like that, with the reserves coming in and doing work like they did, it was a great job all around. And it’s the same in the community.”

Not your average ballpark: What wasn’t the same was playing in a venue like McCoy Stadium which has seen a myriad of players that went on to become All-Stars as well as Hall of Famers (i.e. Cal Ripken Jr., Wade Boggs, Jim Rice, etc.).

“It’s always a great experience to play on a field that doesn’t give you bad hops for once,” Koch said. “It’s also a great experience to play where David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia have played … all those great players.

“It’s an honor to play here.”

The fact Newtown was invited to play the game took Memoli completely by surprise.

“When Coach Murray invited us to come here, I don’t know him from Adam,” Memoli said. “He e-mailed me after the events that occurred at Sandy Hook. I went to my athletic director and my players and the first thing everyone said was ‘Definitely.’

“It’s a huge testament to him, just being unselfish to invite our team when we don’t have any idea of who they are … to come out to a stadium like this. It says a lot about who [Murray] is and what that program is to allow us to enjoy that experience.”

It also was in stark contrast to what the players experienced on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook.

“It was scary,” Memoli said. “For these kids, personally, it was extremely scary. Overall, it was just very sad for all of us. For these kids, I tell them sometimes I don’t like yelling at them because I care about them so much. It’s such a fun group to be around.

“Ever since December and the events that happened this week, to get out here for a little normalcy and just to play baseball on a field like these in a stadium like this, it really makes you thankful and grateful that you get a chance to do this. These kids are definitely grateful and thankful they got to come out here and have fun and play baseball.”

Play ball: As for the game, which essentially was secondary in nature, Newtown grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first on Dean Demers’ sacrifice fly.

Tolman then hung four runs on the board in the last of the second, one on a wild pitch, another on a Steve Otis single and two on Jason Maynard’s double.

The Tigers tacked on an insurance run in the third when Carlos Canabria drew a leadoff walk and eventually came home when Nick Kempf was hit by a bases-loaded pitch.

Newtown’s seventh-inning rally was sparked by Pat Rowley’s double and Garrison Buzzanca’s single.