ITEM PHOTO BY KATIE MORRISON
Nathan DeRoche throws out the first pitch at the Big Blue’s game against Masco Friday.
By KATIE MORRISON
SWAMPSCOTT — For the Swampscott High baseball team, Friday night’s game against Masconomet was about more than baseball.
Prior to the Big Blue’s tilt against the Chieftains, the spotlight was on Nathan DeRoche, a Swampscott seventh-grader who is battling T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.
The Big Blue teamed up with the Cops for Kids with Cancer to put together a “Nathan Strong” fundraiser night at the Swampscott Middle School baseball complex Friday night. This past winter, the Swampscott hockey team also held a fundraiser at Rockett Arena benefitting DeRoche.
“Nathan’s a great kid, he’s a great athlete, he’s a hockey player and a baseball player, and he’s been out of school for most of the year battling lymphoma,” Swampscott coach Jason Calichman said. “We saw what the hockey team did for him and we wanted to show our support too.”
Friday night, DeRoche arrived at the field with a full police escort, riding in the front seat of a Swampscott police car with a parade of sirens and vehicles behind him.
The Swampscott community turned out in a big way for the event. If you weren’t at the field early, you’d be hard-pressed to find a parking spot. The large crowd lined the sides of the entrance to the complex, cheering as DeRoche and his family made their way to the diamond.
“That’s one of the best things about a small town, we have each other’s back and we showed what Swampscott represents tonight,” Calichman said. “It’s one of the best parts of living and coaching in this community.”
Both teams wore bright green shirts for warmups, as green is the color used to promote lymphoma awareness. DeRoche and his family received a $5,000 check from Ed McNelley, a member of the board of directors for Cops for Kids with Cancer, to assist with the many costs associated with DeRoche’s fight against cancer. The foundation has donated $2.5 million to support families battling the disease since its inception in 2004.
“The support of the community has been great,” said Kristia DeRoche, Nathan’s mother. “It really helps. Even at random times throughout the week, we’ll feel that support from the local community. It was a great turnout tonight.”
DeRoche also got to throw out the first pitch, a perfect strike to Big Blue catcher Louis Olivieri. His Babe Ruth Pirates teammates turned out to support the middle-schooler, who plays baseball and hockey and was part of the Swampscott Little League team that won the District 16 title last summer.
Along with the donation from Cops for Kids with Cancer, there were tables set up selling “Nathan Strong” t-shirts and accepting donations, and all of the proceeds from the food and drinks sold at the game will go to the DeRoche family. After the first pitch, Calichman presented DeRoche with a helmet signed by all of the players, a t-shirt and the game ball.
“The night before the game, the players were texting me about getting a helmet and signing it for Nathan. That was all them,” Calichman said. “They knew it was about more than baseball, and they were disappointed they didn’t get the win tonight, but they knew it was about more than the game.”
On the field Friday, Masco had the upper hand, as the Chieftains quieted the powerful Swampscott offense for a 4-2 win. A.J. Venuti drove in the Big Blue’s lone run in the first inning, but Swampscott left the bases loaded in the frame and couldn’t get much else going until the seventh, when it added its second run. Olivieri had two of the Big Blue’s four hits, while Sean Lahrizi and Venuti had the other two. On the mound, David Peterson went the first three innings, allowing three runs with three strikeouts. Luke Marshall didn’t give up a hit in his three innings of work, and Colin Frary came on for the seventh, allowing one run.
Former Swampscott coach T.J. Baril, now at the helm of the Chieftains, said it was great to be a part of the evening.
“It’s great to come down and play Swampscott, Jason (Calichman) and his guys are awesome, it’s always a really good game when we play each other,” Baril said prior to Friday’s game. “The thing that is different about Friday night is we have a chance to help out someone that needs help. The athletic community is always ready to help out one of their own, and I think everybody realizes that this can happen to anyone, anyone’s kid, so we’re glad to be taking part. The athletic community always steps up for one of their own and we’ll continue to do so.”
The two teams hold a fundraiser every year for different causes. While it was supposed to be Masco’s turn to host, Baril had no issue forgoing a home game and participating in the fundraiser for DeRoche.
“To T.J.’s credit, this year was his turn to have a home game, and he gave it up for this game,” Calichman said. “That says a lot about him, a lot of people wouldn’t give up a home game. There was an outpouring of support from both sides.”
Raising money and awareness for a member of Swampscott’s own community made the night even more special.
“Nathan’s a great kid, he’s one of our own, he’s a ballplayer,” Calichman said. “He’ll be a member of Swampscott varsity baseball soon, I know it. It could happen to any one of us.”
Scot Cooper contributed to this report.