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Yankees Magazine: More Than Just a Game

How Scranton/Wilkes-Barre turned the Triple-A Championship Game into a massive charitable event
Yankees Magazine

Karen Riviello doesn't particularly like baseball. So it is a little bit odd to find her at PNC Field in Moosic, Pa., watching the 2017 Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game -- the most important Minor League Baseball game of the year. But if you dig a little deeper and take a quick look around, the root cause of her presence becomes obvious.

Moosic is a small borough in Northeast Pennsylvania. Its population of less than 6,000 inhabits approximately 6.7 square miles. But what the town lacks in pure size it more than makes up for in solid heart.

Karen Riviello doesn't particularly like baseball. So it is a little bit odd to find her at PNC Field in Moosic, Pa., watching the 2017 Gildan Triple-A National Championship Game -- the most important Minor League Baseball game of the year. But if you dig a little deeper and take a quick look around, the root cause of her presence becomes obvious.

Moosic is a small borough in Northeast Pennsylvania. Its population of less than 6,000 inhabits approximately 6.7 square miles. But what the town lacks in pure size it more than makes up for in solid heart.

On Sept. 19, Moosic and its main attraction, PNC Field, home of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, hosted a charitable event the impacts of which would affect more than just the region. On that day, the Triple-A National Championship Game invaded the town with the Durham Bulls and Memphis Redbirds playing for the title.

It was a good game, sure. But it was also a day of goodwill. That's because when it was announced that the RailRiders would be hosting the National Championship Game, the club's co-managing owner, David Abrams, saw an opportunity. Having been recently diagnosed with cancer, Abrams felt compelled to turn the event into something so much bigger than just a baseball game.

"I needed something to help me cope with this," Abrams said. "Everybody deals with these things differently, and my view was that the best way for me to get better is to help other people. Period.

"This is a pretty big deal. It's not the Super Bowl, but this is our chance to showcase Northeast Pennsylvania and that civic pride that we're trying to tap into. At the same time, we're trying to do something good for people. I want to make this a memorable event that raises a lot of money and puts smiles on people's faces."

In July, Abrams and RailRiders staff linked up with Stand Up To Cancer -- a national nonprofit organization which benefits cancer research -- and various community partners to create a multifaceted event that Moosic would never forget. Abrams' goal was to reach people that the RailRiders normally do not, to raise money for an organization that has become personal to him, and to host a great baseball game. In the end, it was successful on all counts.

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Prior to the game, a number of ambassadors dispersed throughout Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Moosic to spread the hopeful message of the game to the communities.

Yankees hero Bucky Dent visited the Delta Medix Center for Comprehensive Cancer Care in Scranton, while Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson dropped in on patients at the Geisinger Community Medical Center cancer center.

"It's hard sometimes," said Denise Prislupski, who was being treated at Geisinger when Jackson stopped by. "You'll just be having a normal day like this with needles and treatment that you know is going to make you sick, and then someone like Reggie shows up and it's unbelievable how much it can brighten your day."

Former big leaguers Roy White, Jason Grimsley, Andy Ashby and Jeff Juden also made appearances throughout the community, and all of the ambassadors joined local heroes, basketball Hall of Famer Allen Iverson and three-time Stanley Cup champion Ken Daneyko at a pregame Fan Fest outside of PNC Field. Thousands invaded the parking lots for autograph signings, tailgating, food truck rallies and even a zip line, all while being given the opportunity to donate whatever they could to the cause.

Once fans got into the stadium for the game, they were given placards on which they could write the name of a person who was affected by cancer. After the fifth inning, during a nationally televised moment, everyone in the stadium -- players and coaches included -- stood and held up their placards in tribute. Throughout the night, fans were also encouraged to write hopeful messages on a Stand Up To Cancer banner on the concourse, learn more about cancer through video messages and informational videos on the center-field video board, and, of course, contribute financially.

"To play for a cause like Stand Up To Cancer and to be a part of this night is something special," said Patrick Wisdom, the Redbirds' designated hitter for the night who lost both of his grandmothers to cancer. "Everyone has people in their life they've lost to cancer, so to be able to play a game and help make this cause known and grow, that's something special."

***

At the end of the day, under fireworks and to the applause of the 9,383 fans in attendance, a Triple-A national champion was crowned. The Durham Bulls walked away with the title, but it was the RailRiders and the work they did that deserved most of the praise.

Kean Wong hit a go-ahead grand slam for Durham in the bottom of the fourth inning, which proved to be the difference in the Bulls' 5-3 victory. After the game, he took time to recognize the RailRiders for their charitable work.

"That was for my mom, who passed away to cancer," he told The Times-Tribune of Scranton. "I didn't know [about the RailRiders' efforts] until the day before. I just want to thank them for that, and tell my mom I love her."

"We're proud of what we've done," said Josh Olerud, the RailRiders' team president/chief operating officer. "Our goal was to raise $200,000, and we surpassed that before the game even started."

The proceeds that the RailRiders raised will be split between Stand Up To Cancer and among the community centers, hospitals and charities that the team works with in Northeast Pennsylvania, ensuring that the game will be remembered long after the night ended.

"The event itself was always going to be important because of the magnitude of the game and the fact that these two teams have played a long year, and now they're fighting for a national championship," said Dent, who lost his wife, Marianne, to brain cancer in October 2015. "But the RailRiders turned it into an even more special night. It's more than just about baseball. We were able to shine light on a greater cause. Cancer touches everybody's life in some way, so to be able to come and raise money and give back nationally as well as to this specific community is really what it's all about."

Karen Riviello didn't come to PNC Field to watch a baseball game. She came to support a family member who had recently undergone a double mastectomy and was battling a cancer that had spread to her brain. Karen Riviello came to PNC Field to stand up and fight back against a disease. She's not a baseball fan, but she now knows the power of what a baseball team can do, and she's thankful for it.

"When I read in the newspaper about the owner of the team and his fight with cancer, I said, 'Wow, that's really something for him to try and make this something special,'" she said. "It's wonderful that the team did this, and the things that they did throughout the game were great. Everything they did was impressive, and I think what was really impactful was when they put on the screen the number of people who die of cancer every day. It's unbelievable. It was particularly emotional to see everyone standing with their placards because you saw how cancer affects everyone."

So while she may not remember that Durham walked away the victors in this baseball game, she'll never forget that the RailRiders helped shine a light on and raise money for a good cause. And neither will anyone else.

Hilary Giorgi is the associate editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the October 2017 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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