As my wife, Kate, and I took the right hand turn into the lot of Christina's Restaurant in Foxboro last night, my hands began to sweat. We had been asked to attend the Legends Ball to Benefit the Hockomock Area YMCA as dinner guests of Team Hoyt, and though excited, I have to admit I was a bit unnerved.
The thought of breaking bread with the immortal Dick and Rick Hoyt, while sitting in the shadows of some of the greatest heroes in New England sports made my heart palpitate at humming bird speed as I handed my keys to the valet.
We entered the beautiful chandelier lit lobby and I couldn't help but sneak a peek at the red lettered placards that lined the table in the lobby. Ordinary guys like me, had blue lettering, but the Legends who would grace our presence had their placards lettered in fancy red print.
Names like Ronnie Lippett, John Hannah, Steven King, Troy Brown, Pete Brock, and Steve Grogan, were flanked on either side by names of former Red Sox players including, Joe Morgan, Dick Beradino, Ted Lepcio, and Skip Lockwood, as well as Rick Middleton of the Bruins and Jeff Causey of the New England Revs.
Current Patriots players including Steven Neal, Matt Light, Pierre Woods, and even Joe Andruzzi of Patriots/Giants fame rounded out the roster of guests.
All in all, three dozen larger than life heroes would be joining us to eat, drink and talk sports all to benefit the well deserving boys and girls of the Hockomock Area YMCA.
"It doesn't get any better than this," I said to Katie as I spotted Dick and Rick in their tuxedos and their office manager and friend, Kathy, in her elegant black dress.
The Hoyt boys looked absolutely handsome in their black ties and tuxes. I shook Dick's hand and was awestruck at the strength and power in his muscular hand. A little might of a man with a powerful grip, Dick hardly resembles a man in his late sixties.
I leaned down and introduced myself to Rick and teased him about how soft his hands were. "You don't work hard enough," I joked. Rick looked up at me from his wheel chair and smiled with his huge patented grin.
His eyes had an amazing way of communicating his every thought as if to make up for his inability to communicate verbally.
Though I had done a story on the Hoyt's several weeks ago and have become very close to the Team since, I had never had the pleasure of meeting Rick in person prior to tonight. It rapidly gained a spot as one of my most special life moments.
Waitstaff brought tray upon tray of wonderful hors d'oeuvres and the bar was open throughout the cocktail hour, but I was more interested in the amazing blessing which had been bestowed upon us.
I watched with intrigue as Dick used a note pad and their intricate method of uncovering which letter Rick was attempting to say. The two worked tirelessly as Rick tried to communicate his thoughts.
"Is it an A...an E...an I...an O..?" Dick asked, trying to corral the first letter of the word that Rick was trying to convey. Once they agreed on a vowel through a gentle nod of Rick's head, they would then try to hone in on the actual letter, which fell closest to the pinpointed vowel.
"Is it O by itself? Is it P...Q...R...S...T?
"It's a T," Dick confirmed as Rick nodded in agreement.
With the first letter in the word jotted down on Dick's scratch pad, it was an H as the second letter, after eliminating F and G, which followed the vowel E.
"It's an H," Dick said. "Is it The? Is it Thank you?" he inquired trying to expedite the process by randomly stabbing at Rick's intention.
Dick had read Rick's thoughts on guess number two and reduced the time needed to translate Rick's sentence. Clearly they've done this often enough over the years that they'd gotten pretty adept at the guessing game.
Rick nodded. "You want to say, Thank you for coming?" Rick nodded again.
I swallowed hard and held back my first tears of the night.
I quickly realized that though their running in marathons or competing in triathlons are amazing feats, merely finding the strength and courage to communicate, eat, laugh, and live each day may be more of a challenge than many of us would choose to take on.
Over the course of the evening I bonded with Rick, while trying to divide my time evenly between Kate, Dick, Kathy and Kirk, and Sheila Joslin, the President of Easter Seals, and his wife who were also residing at Table No. 30.
Our table was made complete by Rick's PCA (Personal Care Attendant), Mike, who fed Rick, gave him frequent sips of water and chatted with him endlessly through out the event.
But, it was Rick who grabbed the lions share of my attention as we joked about finding him three blondes to complete his perfect night. "Boys will be boys," Katie whispered to me.
There were several magic moments over the course of the evening that made my heart grow exponentially.
The first occurred when I accompanied Dick and Rick to the VIP room as they signed posters along side the other Legends. Though the pile of posters was about 40-50 deep, Dick placed a sharpie in Rick's hand and held it as the two of them combined to write Rick's autograph.
Perhaps easier for Dick to write Rick's name for him or to simply sign as Team Hoyt, the two wouldn't even consider this. It would have been out of line with what they stand for and the "Yes, You Can" message they promote.
Matt Light, Stephen Neal, Joe Andruzzi, and Troy Brown entered the room and I, again, started to perspire. Never had I been in the presence of one, let alone six, sports legends.
The quartet entered the room laughing and joking and, I sense, were mildly impressed by their own notoriety.
Until they saw the Hoyts.
Each of the four stopped dead in their tracks. Their eyes widened as they realized who, they, too, were in the presence of. Light, especially was awestruck and said to Dick and Rick how honored he was to meet them.
The other three joined Light in their acknowledgment and Andruzzi, who himself has overcome amazing challenges after battling non-Hodgkin lymphoma, agreed to let Rick try on his Super Bowl ring.
In addition to requesting the blondes, Rick had expressed a wish to try on a ring and Andruzzi obliged. However, before he pulled it from his enormous hand the legends were called away to be announced to the anxious crowd.
The crowd of 300 looked on as each of the Legends was escorted to their tables by special needs athletes from the Hockomock Y. Several of the legends high-fived their escorts playfully to the thrill and jubilation of their escort and the crowd.
The legends received warm ovations from the crowd as each was announced. Tim Fox, Jim Bowman, Jon Williams, Billy Johnson, John Smith, Tom Yewcic, and even Patrick Sullivan of Patriots' days gone by were presented one by one by master of ceremonies, Butch Stearns, of Fox25 News and WEEI fame.
When my guys were announced, however, the crowd stood and cheered in a rousing, and well deserved ovation. As Dick wheeled Rick in, the crowd honored them with the most overwhelming ovation of the event.
Throughout the evening, dozens of men and women shook the Hoyts' hands, posed for photos, and thanked them for being inspirations to so many throughout the world. My two, extremely humble, friends took it all in stride and thanked their fans for thanking them.
As our evening ended I again whispered to Kate, "It simply doesn't get any better than this."
And then, of course, it did.
As Rick was getting prepared to be wheeled out of the banquet hall, Andruzzi rushed over and reminded Rick of the promise to wear his Super Bowl ring.
Rick smiled that patented grin as Andruzzi slipped the ring onto his soft little hand. Andruzzi's enormous ring could have laid claim to three of Rick's fingers as the three giants posed for another Kodak moment.
It became amazingly clear to me that heroes come in all different sizes.
Todd Civin is a freelance writer who writes for Bleacher Report , Sports, Then and Now , and Seamheads . He is a supporter of, A Glove of Their Own , the award-winning children’s story that teaches paying it forward through baseball.
The Joe Niekro Foundation is the most recent non-profit organization to join the A Glove of Their Own team and will earn $3.00 dollars from each sale of the book purchased using the donor code JNF636 Joe Niekro Foundation .
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