It was a neat scene shortly after Brick High School’s Anthony Starego had thrown out the first pitch before the second game of the First Annual Strike Out Autism Baseball Challenge on Saturday at Central Regional High School’s Al Kunzman Memorial Field.
Toms River High School South’s players, who represent the most storied program in the history of Shore Conference baseball, had just been the last of the four teams at the event to go out to the mound and greet Starego.
After every Indians’ player had shaken Starego’s hand and introduced themselves to him, they huddled up around him as a group. Then as the players broke the huddle, they let out in unison their traditional “South” cheer.
Starego, who is a senior placekicker for Brick’s storied football program, has autism. He became a national story last fall when he kicked a game-winning field goal on the last play of the game against Toms River North.
His first pitch on Saturday was a well-thrown strike to Red Bank catcher Dillon Stambaugh.
Saturday’s event was organized by former Central and St. Rose head baseball coach and former Central baseball player Jerry Frulio. The purpose of the event was to help spread more awareness of autism.
Besides the baseball games between St. John Vianney and Central and Red Bank Regional and Toms River South, there were events in Veterans Park, which is next to Kunzman Memorial Field. St. John Vianney defeated Central, 5-1, and Toms River South defeated Red Bank, 2-1 in the baseball games.
“There’s a lot of things (Frulio and the event organizers) could have done, but to honor him as a local kid and to participate in stuff in your own backyard, I think it’s really important,” said Ray Starego, Anthony Starego’s father, about the honor of having his son throw out the first pitch.
“All the players here I think realize what (Anthony Starego) stands for, and the awareness he brought to the cause of autism awareness,” said Central coach John Scran.
Autism affects 1 in 49 children, including 1 in 29 boys in New Jersey. Ray Starego said his son’s story gives everybody who is affected by autism hope Starego kicked four extra points in a one-point win over Toms River East before the Toms River North game last fall. He kicked three extra points against Toms River North and a field goal against Lacey the week after the Toms River North game.
It was announced on Saturday that Starego is the National Consortium for Academics and Sports’ 2013 National Student-Athlete Giants Steps Award Courageous Student-Athletes Award winner for males.
“I tell stories of how difficult it was for Anthony early on,” Ray Starego said. “I’ve told that to parents, some of whom have said to me, ‘We love what your son has done. It’s gives us a chance. It gives us something to hope for.’
“I’ve had other people tell me, ‘My son or daughter will never do something like this (play football). The whole point is — not there’ll do something like this — but they’ll going to do more than you ever thought they’d do.
“That’s the important part, ‘Stay with them because they will shock you. They will surprise you in their own way. In addition, they will find their way some day, with a lot of help and a lot of care and a lot of love.’ “
Scran said his program had a car wash during the week and raised $575. St. John Vianney coach Mike Morgan, who said he rescheduled a game with Long Branch to be part of the event, said he presented Frulio with a $200 check. Morgan also said his program donated food.
“Being a catholic school, this is a great thing to be involved in. It’s something we should do,” Morgan said.
ST. JOHN VIANNEY 5, CENTRAL 1: Senior left-hander Rich Hoffmann pitched five innings of three-hit ball and senior Eric Gomez socked an RBI double in the fourth and junior first baseman Joe Rotelli a two-run double in the fifth as the Lancers (2-2) snapped a two-game losing streak with the win over the Golden Eagles (1-2).
Hoffman struck out four and walked one.
TR SOUTH 2, RED BANK 1: Junior right fielder Russell Messler blasted a solo homer over the scoreboard in left and went 2-for-3 and senior Eric Fricks pitched a complete-game six-hitter as the Indians (2-1) defeated the Bucs (1-3).
Fricks struck out four, walked none and hit batter.