WINSTED >> Two weekends ago, Northwestern’s Zach Risedorf and Housatonic’s Willy Yahn traveled down to the Miami to take part in the 2014 Power Showcase at Marlins Park.
The Litchfield County duo, who will play together next year at UConn, got to size themselves up against some of the top high schoolers in the country. The Power Showcase brings together 130 of the brightest young baseball players in the nation to compete in a home run derby and play in a few games. Big league stars like the Bryce Harper, of the Nationals, and the Cubs Anthony Rizzo, have showed off their skills at the same event in past years.
“It was good, I met a bunch of good baseball friends,” said Risedorf. “I made some connections in the baseball community.”
“It doesn’t get better then going down to Miami when in January when you’re from Connecticut,” said Yahn.
But their trip wasn’t just about some time in the sun and on the diamond for the two high school standouts. One of the requirements of attending the Power Showcase is participating in a community outreach initiative, called “Home Runs that Help.”
According to the Power Showcase website, each participant has the responsibility to reach out in his community and connect with a local baseball fan that is suffering from a life-threatening medical condition, disability or special need. The participant can even raise money for the chosen cause.
Risedorf chose to sponsor Bill Marsh, of Winsted. Marsh has faced developmental challenges throughout his life and last year he was diagnosed with dementia, a condition that impairs judgment and can result in memory loss.
Risedorf shares a connection to the disease — his great-grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s.
“I’ve know him for a while,” said Risedorf, whose mother Diane Risedorf works as a caregiver at Marsh’s house, where he lives with four other men.
On Friday night, Risedorf went to Marsh’s house to donate his first home run ball that traveled 393 feet out of Marlins Park.
As soon as Risedorf walked into the house, Marsh was waiting for Risedorf in the living room with a big smile on his face, wearing a Power Showcase hat.
“Wow,” said Marsh, as Risedorf gave him the ball from his first home run.
Risedorf also brought two of the wood bats that he got at the showcase let Marsh hold one of them, but Marsh was more excited about the ball and he quickly gave the bat back so he could hold the ball.
“He’s really enthusiastic,” said Diane Risedorf.
Marsh was able to watch some of the Power Showcase through the organization’s website.
“He loves hearing the ball hit the bat,” said Diane Risedorf.
This year was Risedorf’s second trip to the Power Showcase. Last season he sponsored his 22-year-old sister, Stefanie, who was diagnosed with Autism when she was 7, and according to Risedorf, is his biggest fan.
Yahn chose to raise money for his “Call to Care Uganda,” which he started last spring.
After watching a segment on the Uganda Little League team during the 2012 Little League World Series, Yahn began to collect baseball equipment to have shipped to Uganda. His sister, Ellie, who previously had taken a service trip to Uganda and brought kids there real soccer balls, also inspired him.
“Because I played, they will be donating a certain amount of money to the ‘Call to Care Uganda,’” said Yahn. “It will go to helping them ship equipment.”
Yahn has collected over 500 pounds of baseball equipment since he began collecting and raised $600 down in Miami, selling Ugandan necklaces and ‘Call to Care Uganda’ shirts.
With all the success that both players have had on the field, giving back off the field is something that they were very willing to do.
“I feel like I am incredibly lucky with my family,” said Risedorf. “I don’t see this as something necessary, it’s something I enjoy doing.”
His mom is very proud of what her son has done.
“We try to instill our kids to always be humble,” she said. “He didn’t even hesitate for a second. He was completely OK with giving back, he has always been like that.”
Both Risedorf and Yahn will continue their baseball careers at the University of Connecticut next season.
“I think I am speaking for the both of us when I say it’s special, we’ve been fortunate to play baseball at a high level,” said Yahn. “We can’t forget about those who are less fortunate. We want to give back to the community through the game that we love.”