7/11/12 | 732 views
Former Pro Pitches In as Coach for Disabled Young Adults
Bronx native John Doherty doesn’t think it’s a big deal.
“I always just feel if I can do something to help somebody and I have time to do it …” he told Catholic New York matter-of factly. Doherty was referring to a recent morning in which he and his old high school baseball coach, Dom Cecere, teamed up to give a baseball clinic at Broadway Field in Hawthorne to a group of developmentally disabled young adults from Cardinal McCloskey Services Day Habilitation Program.
The thing is, Doherty, 45, a big right-handed pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox from 1992 to 1996, seemingly always finds the time. And that is a big deal.
“It was couple of hours out of my day and like I said, it was a lot of fun,” said Doherty.
His day at Broadway Field became a reality after a conversation with a representative of McCloskey Services, Melinda McFadden. “We’re from the same town, went to the same school. We started talking and I said, ‘Hey, whatever I can do to help’ and this came up so I said, ‘Let’s do it.”’
Ms. McFadden is a job coach in the supported employment program for McCloskey Services. The program provides adults with intellectual disabilities vocational training, pre-vocational training and assistance in developing basic adult living skills. The ultimate goal is to get the clients hired into the workplace. “You can’t meet a more dedicated employee,” offered Beth Finnerty, McCloskey Services president.
Ms. McFadden had seen Doherty’s picture on the wall at her alma mater, Eastchester High School, and decided to approach him.
“I recognized him from the hall of fame and knowing that our league for our guys was about to start, I saw an opportunity,” she explained. “We started talking—he’s a very nice man as you can tell—and he said he’d be happy to work something out with us and it just kind of grew.”
On May 11, Doherty and Cecere loaded bats, balls and hitting tees into the car and headed for Broadway Field where an enthusiastic group of young ball players awaited them. They spent the morning teaching skills, starting the players out playing catch, having them hit off tees and coaching basic drills before starting a game.
“We approached it the exact same way,” said Doherty, who wore his official number 44 Detroit Tigers gray road jersey that day just for extra effect. “We ran the clinic that we would run whether you are special needs or disabled or a regular 9- or- 10-year-old Little League kid. One girl, I can’t remember her name, she was throwing right-handed and left-handed with good form and then two guys, I think their names were Vinny and Anthony, just characters, just great guys.”
One thing that Doherty said the coaches didn’t encounter was attitude. “We had as much fun as we would (coaching Little Leaguers),” he recalled, “if not more because 10-, 11- and 12-year-old kids sometimes can be, they know it all.”
Among these ball players, the response was gratitude.
“I had a lot of fun and thank you, John, for all the gifts and for a good time,” said Anthony Calvi, 47, who lives at home with his parents and is currently working on his vocational skills towards getting a job in the community. “I love baseball.”
Doherty speaks with the staccato cadence and accent of his native Bronx. He grew up within walking distance of Yankee Stadium before his family moved to Westchester County. He downplays his kindness with a casual shrug. But his generosity is amply demonstrated by looking at his post-baseball curriculum vitae.
Doherty, who compiled a respectable Major League 32-31 won lost record with a 4:87 ERA before a knee injury cut short his career, sits or has sat on more boards than he can keep track of, including the Eastchester School Foundation and the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association. He has been a Muscular Dystrophy Association Muscle Team member. He has also been involved with Miracle League baseball, a league for children and adults with severe disabilities.
His remarkable work history also reflects a career built on community service. He served as director of the Empire State Senior Games and Games for the Physically Challenged for 13 years and currently works as recreation complex manager at Roberto Clemente State Park in the Bronx.
He credits his parents and two baseball men for forming him into the person he is, even as he protests that he’s really not all that special. Raised Catholic, he says faith was important in his house growing up. His family, wife Chrissy and children Nicole, 16, and John Anderson, 13, attend Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Scarsdale, though not as often as perhaps they should, he acknowledged. “Mom was a Bible reader. I consider myself a spiritual person and I got that from my mom,” he said.
“She just taught me to keep it simple, treat people as you want to be treated. Besides my mom and dad, Dom Cecere, was a huge role model and then playing for (former Tigers manager) Sparky Anderson in Detroit. They (Cecere and Anderson) were one and the same. One was rich and famous and on TV and one was not, but they were the same.
“In Detroit, Sparky made me go to speak at a D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. He made me do a lot of things and I knew there was a reason for it. Not because he liked me but because he thought I should be doing that stuff and he thought I’d do a good job at it.”
Anderson did like the big right-hander, though. “We got along great,” Doherty acknowledged. “He was super, super nice to me. I named my son John Anderson, that’s how much I liked Sparky Anderson. Here’s a guy who won the World Series in both leagues and always wanted to be remembered for his CATCH Foundation (Caring Athletes Working Together for Children’s Hospital). So I guess you are hearing some common themes on why I do some of the things I do.”
Anderson evidently taught his young charge well.
“He was so obviously comfortable,” a grateful Ms. Finnerty said of Doherty’s performance with the McCloskey ball players. “He’s a real professional, and not just as a baseball player.”
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