Mazzilli, Wilson attend Play Ball event in Brooklyn
NEW YORK -- The memories rushed back to Lee Mazzilli as if no time had passed at all -- all those days in Brooklyn's Prospect Park with his friends, all the trips to the diamond, all the memories on the sandlots.
On Saturday, as part of Nickelodeon's "Road to Worldwide Day of Play," the former Major Leaguer returned to Prospect Park, where it all began for him, to give back and to encourage kids to get outside and be active.
Nickelodeon and Major League Baseball have had an established relationship over the years, so Nickelodeon invited MLB to get involved with the day through MLB and USA Baseball's joint Play Ball initiative. Thousands of kids, as well as Mazzilli and fellow former Major Leaguer Mookie Wilson, took to Prospect Park, where the kids could play baseball and engage with over a dozen other physical activity stations.
"It's spectacular," Mazzilli said. "It's very important, because I think the initiative of Play Ball is very important. Coming here and seeing the kids out here, we need them to get out and play, and Prospect Park and New York is a great area for these kids to come out and play. If you see all these kids out there, that's why we're here."
Wilson, a former Major League player and coach, echoed that sentiment and reflected on how sports affected his own life.
Wilson played with the Mets from 1980 to 1989, when he was traded to Toronto, and he's famous for hitting the ground ball that went through Bill Buckner's legs in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The Mets went on to win the the title in seven games.
"I think to encourage kids to get involved with sports is one of the greatest things in the world," Wilson said. "Sports helped me an awful lot. I was able to go to school, and not to mention the physical benefits that I gained from it. I think it's important that we do that."
Wilson acted as the pitcher for a group of kids lined up to take batting practice, hitting Wiffle balls back at Wilson and over the fence.
Seven-year-old Tristian Fidelia-Henry got a personal coaching session from Wilson, but he didn't realize Wilson was a famous athlete until after he finished hitting.
"He told me to hit the ball with the face of the baseball bat," Fidelia-Henry said. "[My favorite part of the day] was playing baseball and having fun."
The event was filled with myriad sports and opportunities, but Wilson, Mazzilli and MLB's senior director of youth programs David James, all secretly hoped Play Ball would help draw the kids specifically to baseball.
"Commissioner [Rob] Manfred believes that kids become fans of the game when they start to play the game," James said. "This is the first step in the process this weekend."
As the event entered its final hour, Fidelia-Henry said he had a trio of favorite sports: football, basketball and baseball. But, perhaps now, baseball has claimed the top spot.
"I wish every kid played baseball, OK? That's just the way it is," Wilson said.
"No matter what you say," Mazzilli later followed, "Baseball's the greatest game in the world."