Once-in-a-lifetime moments come wrapped in many guises. Nick Meyerowitz recognized his right off the bat.
After feeling the satisfying “thump” of baseball against leather, the Canyon Del Oro High School sophomore stared down at the line drive ball he’d caught in his baseball glove, atop the Little League World Series pitcher’s mound.
“That catch was nuts,” Meyerowitz, 15, said. “I just put out my mitt and, ‘Wow!’”
Luck played into that snag, of course. But when the Williamsport, Pa., crowd lit up, everyone on the field felt like a winner.
For the Tucson Challenger Little Leaguers — who compete despite physical and mental disabilities — that was exactly the point.
Meyerowitz and 12 teammates, along with family and coaches, flew out to the series to play an Aug. 23 exhibition game against a Challenger team from Houston.
The Tucson squad featured kids best suited for the long flight, said team manager Richard Ferber, whose son — and Meyerowitz’ best friend — Justin Fetzner, also made the trip.
Of those players, many disadvantages were represented — from deafness to severe attention deficit disorder, from prosthetics to chair athletes.
Meyerowitz and Fetzner both suffer from cerebral palsy.
“We couldn’t bring everybody,” Ferber said. “That was the hardest part, picking everyone. But it was a good representation.”
Little League officials smiled on hosting the kids when Tucson Challenger assistant district administrator Bill Fields pitched the idea last fall.
The only hitch — the Old Pueblans had to fund the trip themselves.
But if selecting from over 200 players seemed tough to Ferber, at least fundraising went easier. Donors including the Tucson Conquistadores flexed their muscle and raised $43,000.
“There’s a lot of generous people in this town,” Fields said. “People helped us out quite a bit.”
The kids styled as they walked onto the field, outfitted with new uniforms and embroidered equipment bags.
Upon return, those new cases were filled with autographed baseballs, hat pins and all the swag marking the Little League World Series’ unofficial pastime: pack-ratting.
It all adds up to a lot of memories, lining the players’ bedroom shelves — and digital cameras — on which Meyerowitz displayed photos of himself wooing flight attendants and batgirls.
“I think these kids need that opportunity, to experience something they’ll never forget,” Fields said.
For his own efforts to advance Challenger’s venues, Fields received Little League Baseball’s 2008 Challenger Award.
And the game went smoothly enough, in Challenger fashion.
Nearly every umpire available volunteered to work the game, as the squads followed their minor-league divisions’ rules. Every player batted and scored a run — though parents set scorecards aside.
Players swing as much baseball skill as their physiology allows in Challenger play. When abilities run short, parents help bat and round the bases — sometimes manually sliding them into home plate.
“We want everybody to play and have fun,” Ferber said. “We try to do what the name says — we challenge the kids.”
At the Meyerowitz home, friendly competition is the norm, where the grade-school pals constantly prod each other into activity.
The two exchange hugs frequently. And when Meyerowitz’ offers to demonstrate his Guitar Hero expertise falls flat, the pair bolt outside for backyard hoops.
Meyerowitz — with his 6’ 3” stature, size 15 shoe and eager jump shot — seems practically born under the rim. The less-verbose Fetzner, a CDO senior who throws and catches with his right arm, races Tour de Tucson and loves soccer.
And just days after returning from the Williamsport trip, both turned their efforts to a Special Olympics bowling event.
“They’re jocks,” said Meyerowitz’ father, Jerry.
Still, the average athlete doesn’t have that special perspective, to be tickled by a hotel elevator ride or swimming pool — the little things that frosted the Challenger’s trip.
The team even managed to squeeze in a trip to a nearby amusement park — where a swinging pendulum-type ride drained the color from Nick’s face. He found Williamsport’s Little League food more favorable.
“It was, like, the bomb! It only took them two minutes,” Nick Meyerowitz said.
A 120-second hot dog, to the vendor. To the kids, five days to last a lifetime.
“Basically it exceeded all of our expectations,” Jerry Meyerowitz said. “Just amazing.”