"We've asked you to open your pocketbooks," said Joe Hand Jr., president of the local Miracle League. "We've asked you to spend your time. We've asked you to volunteer. And I thought to myself, 'You know what? Tonight is really about you, the people that are sitting here.'
"What I realized is that this whole field got built because of people that are givers, people that are successful with their careers but still found a way to give back. And that's what you all have done. Tonight is really a moment for you to reflect on what you built in this community."
The Miracle Field, built at nearby Northampton Municipal Park, took three years to go from concept to reality, and Hand said it was a long road of fundraisers and events to make the dream possible. The community raised more than $1 million for the project in a relatively short period of time.
And it was that dedication, that vision and fidelity to making it work, that was celebrated Thursday night at the Northampton Valley Country Club. Noles told a long anecdote centered on his work with special-needs athletes, and Leonetti was lauded for his groundbreaking work with high school students.
Leonetti brought about his organization in order to connect special-needs athletes with mainstream student athletes in their communities, and he said the results have been greater than he could have imagined.
"For the typical athlete, this is what's knocked us out," he said. "It's given them a new perspective, a positive one, as they have become inspired by the abilities of the kids to make them better people. Local newspapers and online publications have interviewed and documented many of the high school athletes' comments, stating that they get so much more [out of] volunteering and that they can't wait to help at our next event. They're also quoted as saying that these kids try their hardest and never give up."
Hochman, who has spent more than five decades at the Daily News, told of some of the most inspiring athletes that he's known through the years, briefly detailing what made players like hockey's Bobby Clarke and baseball's Jim Eisenreich and Jim Abbott so special to the community at large.
Their careers were about more than athletic excellence, he said, and there was also an element of overcoming something profoundly difficult. And that's why, said Hochman, last month's dedication of the Miracle Field touched him in a way that few stories have done in his distinguished career.
"The joy that those kids showed just brought tears to my eyes, and what I felt that day influenced what I want to talk to you about tonight," he said. "Remember -- acts of kindness can be like ripples in a stream. When you reach out to others, sometimes it comes rippling back to you in the form of good deeds. And for the kids who are here tonight, I'd like to tell them that what you believe, you can achieve."