Last night, the Rockland Boulders won their Can-Am League home game in Pomona, New York, by a score of 7-5. But the happiness and joy also extended off the field, as it was Make-A-Wish night at Palisades Credit Union Park.
The night's proceedings, which included a 50/50 raffle, raised over $1,000 for the Make-A-Wish Hudson Valley chapter, which goes directly to help grant the wishes of children with critical illnesses.
Several wish kids and wish alum were in attendance, sharing their stories with fans and luminaries in attendance, including former New York Yankees catcher and current YES Network analyst John Flaherty.
"When you meet these kids and you get to talk to them and feel their personality, that's what inspires me" said Flaherty. "I got involved with Make-A-Wish 10 or 12 years ago. I mean, I was hooked. The kids, the wishes that are granted, the organization, what it does for these families...when this opportunity came up, here with the Boulders in my home county, something I'm personally involved with, I was super pumped my schedule worked out that I could be here."
The VIP of the night was wish kid Emmanuel, 17, flanked by his friends and family. Before the game, Emmanuel was asked to throw out the first pitch.
"When it comes to my throwing and accuracy, it's not the best," Emmanuel confessed.
Flaherty's response to Emmanuel was not to sweat it.
"I've only thrown out one first pitch in my life and I bounced it so I said (to Emmanuel) if you bounce it, it's no big deal. I am an ex professional baseball player. I told him to have fun with it and he did. He threw a pretty good strike on a hop. I'm thankful he let me share that moment with him."
"I was surprised I made it as far as I did, and within the zone." Emmanuel joked.
After the first pitch, Emmanuel was surprised by a video on the scoreboard, informing him that he and his family would be the special guests in a wish send-off party hosted in a private suite to enjoy some food and watch the game.
The suite was adorned with Make-A-Wish balloons, a cake made by Pastry Chef Bakery in Tarrytown, pictures of past wish alum and filled with current wish alum. There were also several flags of a very geographically distant country from the United States. That is because it ties in with Emmanuel's wish, which is coming up very soon in August.
"I had (the idea) for years since I was like 6,7... in the back of my mind I've always wanted to go to Japan. But when I sat down and thought about (the wish), I thought there's a lot of things I could wish for but I kinda don't have a wish in mind. So, I kept being asked...you got the wish yet? It took me a month to fully have the wish down. My mom reminded me, she said 'remember when you drew this picture?' It was from a cartoon. And it reminded me, 'yeah, I want to go to Japan! I still gotta make plans!' and mom said well that could be your wish...I'm like you're absolutely right! I decided to choose that as my wish."
The one thing Emmanuel absolutely needs to get from the land of the rising sun? A shirt in Japanese writing that says "I love Japan" and his name (also in Japanese) right above it. Emmanuel is also an avid video gamer and illustrator. He is currently a senior in high school and has ambitions to study forensic science. On top of that, his dream is to animate a cartoon. He has already thought out his idea:
"I've thought about it a couple different ways. This treasure hunting cartoon, where the main character would be looking for rare materials, rare items, and since he's been doing this for a while he has his own store, whatever he normally finds, if he finds gold and diamonds, he sells those, but any new material he would research and use it in a form of armory and explain how he could break it down and make it into some unique clothing and gear or adventures he's about to go on."
Emmanuel certainly has a vivid imagination. He also has a lot on his plate, but his wish has been one of his and his family's sources of hope and inspiration.
"Keeping up with school and getting everything done (before the wish) has been tough in some cases, but always having that refresher that Make-A-Wish is always supporting me and sending me to Japan, even having gifts like seeing this game and having cake, having a sketch book and art setup, it kept me going as I wanted to draw and learn more about Japan."
Arda Ocal is a host with MSG Networks and was present at Make-A-Wish night conducting a social media takeover for Make-A-Wish Hudson Valley.