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Polar Park resembled a Hollywood set Saturday, December 3.
Glitz, glamour and a strong sense of community were center stage as part of the inaugural WooSox Foundation Honors gala. The philanthropic arm of the WooSox focus on four pillars – education, social justice, conquering cancer and diamond sports – and the team honored those who make an impact in Central Mass.
“It’s great to bring so many people together from across this community that our foundation really focuses on,” said Joe Bradlee, the WooSox vice president of baseball operations and community relations. “We’re recognizing people who really made an impact in all those areas and that’s why tonight is so special.”
Red Sox Hall of Fame broadcaster Joe Castiglione emceed the sold-out event of 250 people.
Former Worcester School Superintendent Maureen Binienda was honored in the field of education. The social justice honoree was Tim Garvin from the United Way of Central Massachusetts.
Conquering cancer, especially pediatric cancer, is close to Larry Lucchino’s heart. The WooSox are engaged in every way possible to rid the world of this terrible disease, so it was fitting that UMass Memorial Hospital’s pediatric oncologist, Dr. Peter Newberger, was honored for his research to find a cure.
“We described a lot of milestones on the journey to Polar Park, but this is a milestone in the growth of the WooSox Foundation,” said club President Dr. Charles Steinberg. “A Christmas time event that brings everybody together, overlooking their civic jewel while we celebrate our community partners holds promise to be a marvelous annual event.”
No one understands and appreciates the impact baseball can have on a young child in Central Mass more than Rich Gedman. The native son grew up only a hit-and-run from Polar Park and he’s engaged in every aspect of the WooSox’ connection to youth baseball and softball. The Red Sox Hall of Famer was honored as Diamond Sports recipient. The team also announced that the WooSox Foundation’s annual charity golf tournament has been renamed in Gedman’s honor.
“He’s such an amazing guy, so it only made sense for him to be the first recipient of this award tonight,” Bradlee said. “Everybody in this community is so proud of him and happy to have him in action in Worcester.”
During the season, the WooSox continually honor teachers, nurses, first responders, children from the Boys & Girls Club and Make-A-Wish Foundation. Gedman is always on the field participating in the pregame ceremonies because he understands the impact all of these people and organizations have in the community.
Gedman grew up on Lafayette Street and as a boy, along with his brother and sister, would walk past the site where Polar Park now sits on their way to the YWCA. The siblings would also walk up Washington Street on their way to the library, or down Madison to The Boys Club on Ionic Avenue.
“When I was a little boy I needed many of those different outreaches,” Gedman explained. “All those places and people had a hand on my life, so to watch that they’re still going on and still having an impact is very moving to me.”
Speaking about his childhood in Worcester brings back so many memories for Gedman.
“I feel so lucky to have grown up here,” he said. “It allowed me to be able to deal with what I had to deal with when I played. Growing up here prepared me for my baseball life. It’s really incredible to me. To watch what’s going on here and to watch it transform the city is special for me.”
Proceeds from the event will benefit the WooSox Scholars program, which annually awards college scholarships of $10,000 to four eighth graders in Worcester Public Schools. Those students were in attendance and recognized Saturday night, including Dalton Le, from South High School; Helene Sanchez-Navidad, from Claremont Academy; Jakayla Edmond Weeks, from Doherty High School; Kasie Vuong, from Burncoat High School; Marenity Gonzalez-Giza, from North High School; Erika Gutierrez, from South High School; Sincere Politano, from University Park Campus School and Farzana Darwishi, from Wachusett Regional High School.
During the event, the WooSox recognized the 23rd anniversary of the Worcester 6. Prior to the team opening Polar Park in 2021, the club officially retired jersey No. 6, which represents the six fallen firefighters – Paul Brotherton, Jerry Lucey, Tom Spencer, Tim Jackson, Jay Lyons and Joe McGuirk – who made the ultimate sacrifice in the Cold Storage and Warehouse Co. fire Dec. 3, 1999.
At the conclusion of the awards presentation, a special guest arrived and invited attendees to the WooSox’ clubhouse for a post-dinner celebration. When they walked through the doors, 2004 Red Sox World Series hero Keith Foulke was waiting with the trophy in his hands.
The inaugural WooSox Foundation Honors gala was a success.
“It’s amazing to me how (the WooSox) have made this connection to Worcester, and the city has made a connection back,” Gedman said. “This (gala) is their way of recognizing people who promote a better culture.”