Monday, September 29, 2003

Team's goodbye poignant

Accident killed player; Game dedicated to Justin

By Stephenie Steitzer
Enquirer contributor

COLD SPRING - Rocke and Tammy Saccone walked together to the pitcher's mound at field three in Pendery Park Sunday, surrounded by about 200 Knothole League members and their parents.

7 memorial photos
The two kissed and then Rocke Saccone walked to home plate, where exactly one week ago their 15-year-old son was fatally struck in the chest by a baseball.

The stands were silent as an announcer called Justin Saccone to bat and his mother, wearing a purple Newport Elks shirt with her son's No. 3 on the back, hurled the first pitch of the league's last game of the season to her husband.

"I was nervous," Tammy said after the ceremony. "I just wanted to get the ball to my husband and make it a good pitch."

People gathered at the park Sunday to remember Justin, who died of commotio cordis, a rare occurrence in which low-impact trauma to the chest disrupts the heart's electrical system.

The game had been canceled earlier in the week, but the Saccones asked Justin's coach, Jimmy Combs, to play it in memory of their son.

"It was real important that baseball keep going," Rocke Saccone said.

A "Saccone #3" sign hung on the fence behind home plate, and purple balloons were released at the end of the ceremony.

The event left many people, including Alexandria resident Becky Ritter, in tears.

"It was pretty sentimental," Ritter, 37, said. "I cried, my boy cried."

After the ceremony, the Saccones were greeted with hugs and condolences by other parents and Justin's friends.

They also spent time in the dugout, cheering on Justin's teammates.

After rain ended the game in the third inning, Tammy Saccone hugged Justin's teammate, Sean Rath, 15, and told him she wanted to be one of those moms who can be called for a ride anytime.

"I want to be a part of you guys' lives," she said.

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