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Malden is up for a Sunday challenge

MALDEN — Some very special ballplayers will knock it out of the park Sunday with their spirit and love of the game.

For the 11th summer close to 100 baseball players of all ages who live with mental or physical challenges along with about the same number of volunteers will converge on Bruce Field at Devir Park in Malden to compete in the 11th Annual Challenger Day.

The event runs from noon to 3 p.m. and includes a lengthy, extended one-inning game with no clock on it as well as pregame and postgame festivities, the latter involving a generous spread of donated food for all, at no charge.

It will be the sixth time the event is being held in Malden, dating back to 2012, when the organizers from the Medford Invitational Tournament (MIT) relocated the popular event from its original site at Columbus Park in South Medford.

Ron Giovino, one of the founders of the MIT and a chief organizer of Challenger Day, says it is easy to point to Challenger Day day as the signature event of the year for all involved.

“It is the best baseball there is, no doubt about it,” said Giovino, who has been involved with the MIT since it was founded in 1996, along with Paul DiStefano, Charlie Ciampaglia and the late Billy Falasca.

“The players are so excited to participate every year and in this game, everyone who plays is treated like the true all-stars they are on this day.”

Players will be assigned special shirts to wear and each one will be announced before they take their position on the field, accompanied by a “buddy” volunteer assigned to assist them during the game.

The Medford Invitational Tournament was a popular, competitive baseball tournament for 12-year-old standouts from many local communities including Malden, Medford, Lynn and Saugus.

Launched in 1996, it continued for 16 summers in early August until 2012, its final year of games. In 2007, after taking their cue from the then-nascent Malden Little League Challenger Baseball program run by Bernie Colbert, the MIT directors began the Challenger All-Star Game, which took place on the final Sunday of the tourney.

According to Giovino, it was an instant hit. “The smiles on the faces of all the players who participated told the whole story. We realized how much it meant to them and to their parents and we all agreed this was going to be the highlight each year,” he said.

When the decision was made to end the tourney games after 16 years, Giovino said it was a given that Challenger Day would continue. “We needed a new venue to host the event and we were so fortunate that the city of Malden and Mayor Gary Christenson stepped up to the plate to assist us. We were welcomed with open arms.”

Giovino said the long list of supporters and sponsors of the event grows longer each year, from elected officials to local corporate sponsors and restaurateurs. Mayor Christenson and both former Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn and present Mayor Stephanie M. Burke are strong supporters of the event. State Rep. Paul Donato, D-Medford, Malden has been behind the event since day one, Giovino said, along with Malden Rep. Steve Ultrino.

This year, Giovino said the MIT welcomes support from the Teamsters Local #25 Autism Fund, who join National Grid and Wegmans as new to the fold. Food in the past and present has been donated by Pizzeria Regina, Kelly’s Roast Beef, Raso’s and Carter Veal.

The Irish American Club made available its hall, located next door to the field, for the postgame luncheon fueled by the donated food.

“It is truly the magic of this event that makes people work so hard to make others happy,” Giovino said.

Bruce Field is next to the Irish American Hall, 177 West St. in Malden. Challenger players include residents of Malden, Medford, Lynn, Billerica and other communities.

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