The Good Fight
According to alz.org, in the United States alone an estimated 6.5 million people ages 65 and up are living with Alzheimer’s dementia. That equates to about one in nine people in that specific age group currently battling some form of this disease.
I personally have lost two close family members to Alzheimer’s, and seeing the mental deterioration of loved ones is quite possibly one of the most harrowing and certainly most helpless feelings in the world. Simply watching someone who you not only loved – but loved deeply – slowly morph into a shell of their former selves is something I – nor anyone with a scintilla of compassion – would wish upon their worst enemy.
Matthew Blittner, a Brooklyn, New York based journalist and author of four books about the National Hockey League, experienced similar loss; and much to his credit, he decided to do something about it.
Blittner lost his great-uncle Lenny DiCristino to the disease in early 2019, and a few short months later his grandfather Morton Blittner was diagnosed as well. That same year, Blittner founded the Brooklyn Memorial Cup for Alzheimer’s – a nine-inning softball game played between Brooklyn community members and members of the New York/New Jersey sports media to raise awareness and funding for Alzheimer’s research.
“Those savored days of being kids listening to stories about Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle become twisted by looking into the clouded eyes of our grandparents, merely looking for a sparkle that was once there.”
There comes a point at which one loses a family member and says, “Enough is enough” and then wants to do anything possible to help change the narrative. Blittner stood up and did just that.
According to Blittner, the game took a different feel on this 95-degree Brooklyn day – much cooler than the 110-degree day on which they played their first classic four years prior. Not exactly October baseball weather; but this game is a labor of blood, sweat, and tears – and some more sweat for good measure.
“There was way more water on us than in us,” Blittner told me of the participants trying to keep cool while the August sun beat down on the turf of the field in Bergen Beach.
Ultimately, the heat didn’t prove to be an adversary to Morton Blittner Game MVP Trophy Recipient Rob DeVita – the de facto Brooklyn Nationals team captain – who managed to leg out a two-run, inside-the-park home run in the top of the ninth, putting the game away and leading the BK Nationals to a 10-3 victory. Sweat be damned, the hustle of the team captain led to yet another championship cup being raised. Not unlike the New York Islanders of yesteryear (1980-83), the BK Nationals won their fourth in a row and proved themselves to be a force to be reckoned with.
The Lenny DiCristino Memorial Cup Trophy was not the only thing being raised. To date, the softball game Blittner has hosted for four years has raised upwards of $14,000 – and 100% of the proceeds are donated to Alzheimer’s Research. That’s no small bit of scratch.
The 2022 Brooklyn Memorial Cup for Alzheimer's Participants. (Photo: Mandi Blittner)
JOCO, an e-bike company, partnered with the group this year along with Red Vyking Gaming – a second year partner – who streamed the game live via their Twitch channel as well as on Facebook Live. The stream also featured Fordham University’s Thomas Aiello and Will Grant calling the play-by-play and color commentary, another way that Blittner and his crew give back; the top student broadcasters from Fordham gain some experience calling games – and all for this great cause.
Blittner told me this year’s game was one of the “most competitive yet,” but the competitive aspect took a back seat to a wonderful group of men and women who refuse to lose the battle against this horrific disease that slowly takes our families and their memories away from them; and not so proudly tests our patience when we aren’t even recognized anymore. Those savored days of being kids listening to stories about Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle become twisted by looking into the clouded eyes of our grandparents, merely looking for a sparkle that was once there.
If you stop to think about it, though, the winners of this game are still fighting an uphill battle. The fight against Alzheimer’s is one that cannot be trivialized; nor is it a game that can ever be won without funding, research, and results that provide a light at the end of the darkened tunnel. This is a fight for your loved ones. It’s a fight for dignity.
Game MVP Rob DeVita (Photo: Mandi Blittner)
It is simply The Good Fight.
On this sunny day on the all-turf field at Bergen Beach, though, many came together to make new memories. One step forward into honoring the past. One step forward toward keeping old memories alive.
Keep fighting The Good Fight.
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