Some rules were clearly broken during Thursday’s high school baseball game between Smithtown Christian and Mattituck, yet no one is complaining.
John Tardif, who is the twin brother of Mattituck’s star pitcher and center fielder, senior Joe Tardif, may be the team’s most loyal fan. John, who has cerebral palsy, attends virtually every one of the team’s games, sitting in his wheelchair and accompanied by his parents, John and Shelly.
But in Thursday’s game at Mattituck High School, John was caught by surprise when he suddenly went from spectator to participant.
Mattituck’s James McDonald was due to bat in the fifth inning, with the Tuckers leading by 7-1 on the way to a 10-1 win, when coach Steve DeCaro sent Joe Tardif into the batter’s box instead. Joe was walked intentionally.
Then it was time for a surprise pinch runner. Mattituck assistant coach Rich Pisacano carried a No. 37 jersey over to John and told him, “They will not let you on the field unless you have a jersey.”
John was wheeled over to first base where he received a helmet from Mattituck’s Jon Dwyer.
Public-address announcer Kevin Chartrand made the announcement, “Now pinch running for Mattituck, No. 37, John Tardif.”
With Joe Graeb at bat, Joe Tardif pushed his brother on a steal of second base and then all the way around third base and to home plate where he was greeted and cheered by the Tuckers as the theme song from “Rocky” played.
“He was ecstatic,” Pisacano said. “He was so happy. We treated him like he scored the winning run.”
DeCaro said: “I think it was emotional for everybody who watched it. For all of us who got to see Joe and John grow up, it was very emotional.”
The idea for it all came from DeCaro’s wife, Marge, who was inspired by a YouTube video she saw.
DeCaro then spoke to Pisacano about it. More talks followed with Mattituck athletic director Gregg Wormuth, umpires and Smithtown Christian coaches, whose cooperation made the idea become a reality.
“He’s our biggest supporter,” Joe Tardif, a three-sport athlete who also played soccer and basketball for Mattituck, said of his brother. “For him to be out there with all of us, playing like one of us meant a lot to him. It meant the world to him. It meant the world to my parents. My mom, she had a smile on her face until this morning, too. She’s still smiling.”
The Tardif brothers have shared the Fred Williams Award, which goes to a basketball player who has dealt with adversity. Mattituck soccer coach Will Hayes made John an honorary captain. “But nothing came close to this at all,” Joe said. “This was really special.”
“He’s always there to watch me,” Joe continued. “He always watches me when I play. Now it’s his time to shine. It was a really great moment.”
Photo caption: John Tardif and his parents, John and Shelly, watch a Mattituck game in the rain. (Credit: Garret Meade)