2007-08-31 / Sports

CW11,NBC Team For 'Autism Speaks'Softball Event

By John J. Buro

The day, on the Brooklyn Cyclones' home field, wasn't about runs, hits, or errors. It was about saving lives or, at the very least, helping to make them vital.

Throughout the 'Autism Speaks' charity softball event, played between CW11 and NBC this past Saturday afternoon in 91-degree heat, a scoreboard message frequently reminded the few hundred fans that, while only one child in 16,000 will become a professional athlete, 1-in-150 will be diagnosed with autism.

And, while the CW11 squad defeated their nemesis, 2-0, on the strength of Lance McConomy's one-hit gem, the underlying message was one of hope and inspiration.

"I'll play in any type of weather," said Lolita Lopez, the network's Emmy Award-winning sports anchor, "because autism awareness is an awesome cause. We always do whatever we can for that organization. Jim Watkins, one of our main anchors, has a child with autism [Liam, aged 9], so we feel a very close connection to it."

Lopez -who ran track and field, and co-captained the volleyball team during her junior and senior years at Harvard University- also took time to appreciate her surroundings.

"I'm playing in KeySpan Park, in awesome Coney Island, with the beach behind me. I might do what I do [on the television screen], but I'm still a fan of the game. And, this is great.

"The cause is the main thing. But, as competitors, winning and losing is still in there somewhere. So, we'd like to [successfully] defend our title."

Defeating a known, but not always recognizable, developmental disorder is a much more difficult challenge.

'Autism Speaks' was born from the National Alliance for Autism Research UK, which was created by Dame Stephanie Shirley in 2004. The newer incarnation was created by Bob Wright -the chairman and CEO of NBC Universal and an Executive Officer of General Electric- and his wife, upon learning of their grandson's diagnosis.

During the end of January, 2006, the NAAR merged with Autism Speaks Inc., thereby creating the world's largest independent organization devoted to this affliction; its mission is to foster public awareness and promote research.

On this day, the cause tied together many forms of the entertainment world. Aside from assorted CW11 staffers, heavy metal's Dee Snider [Twisted Sister] and Miljenko Matijevic [SteelHeart] joined WWE's Mike 'The Miz' Mizanin' and ex-New York Giant Jeremy Lincoln. The NBC team added SNL alum Horatio Sanz, and 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer and Lonny Ross, to a contingent of behind-thescenes personnel.

"Through 'Autism Speaks'," said Jena Greco, one of the event's coordinators, "we are working with doctors and the CDC [Center for Disease Control] to get early intervention, which is so important, so the individual can receive better treatment."

For two hours on this blissful day, the best medicine was caring hearts. Last September 16, the CW11 squad knocked off NBC, 5-2, to claim the inaugural game.

The more important number appeared in the bottom line. On that afternoon last year, the softball game raised $4,000.

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