Mets host annual wheelchair softball clinic, game

May 21st, 2024

NEW YORK -- It was a beautiful day to play softball. On Tuesday, the Mets hosted the 2024 Wheelchair Softball Clinic at the Citi Field parking lot, complete with a hard-fought softball game, orange vs. blue.

The event was co-hosted by the Wheelchair Sports Federation and the Mets Accessibility and Disability Alliance Employee Resource Group, and the event was sponsored by the Amazin’ Mets Foundation and Citi.

The adapted athletes and volunteers from the Wheelchair Sports Federation facilitated a clinic for around 100 student athletes with special needs from District 75 of the New York City Public Schools. Former Mets first baseman Todd Zeile was in attendance, and he spent the day encouraging kids to participate in the Major League Baseball Most Accurate Throw contest. All they had to do was throw the ball through a big hole -- and many of them did just that.

Zeile was also encouraging the students to traverse the bases before watching them swing a bat. The smile on his face told everyone how much he enjoyed working with the kids.

“This is the third year in a row that I’ve done it. The Mets don’t have to ask me twice,” Zeile said. “It’s something that has been more rewarding for me than it is for the kids. I’ve talked to a lot of parents, caretakers, teachers and therapists. The amount of work that goes into what they do to make these kids feel as valued, normal and confident as possible is very inspiring. It’s my pleasure to be here.”

Zeile also watched the adapted athletes from the Wheelchair Sports Federation play a softball game, with the Blue Mets defeating the Orange Mets, 5-2. It was all in good fun, but the players also wanted to show the kids that they can do anything they want to do if they try hard enough.

“A lot of people with disabilities think they can’t participate in sports. They can,” said John Hamre, president of the Wheelchair Sports Federation. “We play in a parking lot, so the wheels move fast and are not slowed down by grass or dirt. They have great upper body strength and speed. So they are playing in sports chairs that are faster and quicker. … We compete at the highest level. We compete for a national championship every year.”

One of the fastest players on the field was Jaime Zelaya, who scored two runs for the Blue Mets. He feels he is getting an opportunity to forge relationships, as well as to discover that he is talented in softball.

“It creates a safe haven for us to be accepted,” Zelaya said. “I love the sport of baseball and softball. It’s like the glove fits. … Getting in one of these chairs gave me a shot in the arm of life. It’s not a regular wheelchair. It’s a sports chair. When it fits like a glove, you feel like a different person and you are able to move according to the maneuvering of your body.”

After the softball game and clinic came to an end, Team USA Paralympian Adam Page spoke to the students and adapted athletes about the triumphs and challenges he’s faced at the Paralympics and how organizations like the Mets and Citi are promoting equity across the sport. The theme of his speech? Find something you love to do and never give up.

“Give 100 percent, whether it’s school or sports,” Page said. “Whatever it is that's important to you in life, give it 100 percent to it, because you are going to get that much more out of it whatever you put into it.”