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Kocur's Cause

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings

(Photo by Andrea Nelson/Detroit Red Wings)

HIGHLAND, MI – With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, former Detroit Lions quarterback Eric Hipple stepped to the plate.

No, this isn’t a dream. Hipple was Team Red’s last chance to overcome a 14-7 deficit to Team White at Joe Kocur’s Annual Charity Softball Event on Saturday.

Hipple took off down the first baseline as he connected with Kocur’s pitch. Team Red’s shortstop quickly picked up the ground ball and threw him out at first.

But Hipple didn’t stop running. With his arms extended, Hipple brought a little football to the softball field, tackling first baseman John Ogrodnick to the ground. The fans and players erupted into laughter.

It was the perfect way to end a day full of fun events and games organized by The Joe Kocur Foundation for Children.

Joe Kocur (Photo by Andrea Nelson/Detroit Red Wings)

“It’s a small town country thing,” Kocur said. “Everybody comes out here, the kids have something to do, the adults have something to do, we have great raffle prizes, we have great silent auction items. We have so many donations within the community and I’ve lived in this community now for over 20 years and I have some great friends and a great network of people that help me.”

After playing in the NHL for 17 years, Kocur knew plenty of former Red Wings and other professional players who were willing to help. Mickey Redmond, Dino Ciccarelli, Darren McCarty, John Ogrodnick, Dave Lewis and Eddie Mio were just a few of the many familiar Red Wings players suited up for the softball game.

“It’s a fun event with a lot of the guys we used to play with and the community really rallies around us,” Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Dino Ciccarelli said. “This whole event is just a win/win for everybody. We just come out here, the former players and some current players and we just have a good time, have a lot of laughs and we raise money for some great charities around here.”

But the event started long before the celebrities took the field.

The 4th Annual Charity Softball Event featured four different games, including a little league game, a sponsor appreciation game and a law enforcement versus fire fighters game. Starting at 11:00 AM, attendees could enjoy food and beverages, participate in raffles and silent auctions or get autographs from their favorite Red Wings all day long. There was also a separate baseball diamond for children filled with fun events such as bounce houses, a dunk take and home run derbies.

Then it was time for the real fun to begin.

John Ogrodnick and Mickey Redmond
(Photo by Andrea Nelson/Detroit Red Wings)

The white and red teams of former Red Wings and Detroit-area athletes trotted onto the field to shouts and cheers of the fans braving the 92-degree weather. Mickey Redmond, Manny Legace, John Ogrodnick, Joe Kocur, Jason Woolley, Pat Peake, Cam Fowler, Bryan Smolinski and Wayne Presley made up the white team. George Bowman, Dino Ciccarelli, Darren McCarty, Eddie Mio, Kevin Miller, Paul Ysebaert, Dave Lewis, Scott Lusader, Kraig Nienhuis and Ron Rice donned red jerseys.

With 97.1 The Ticket’s Jamie Samuelsen and Bob “Wojo” Wojnowski providing the commentary, Kocur stepped to the mound for the first pitch. The former Red Wing only gave up one hit to Ciccarelli before it was his team’s turn to bat. Redmond led off for the white team and Smolinski hit a sacrifice fly to center field, allowing Legace to tag at third and score the game’s first run.

One inning down, eight more to go. And they could’ve gone a few more.

“I worry about playing too many games and getting these guys too tired or too sore and they just want to play another game,” Kocur said with a laugh. “You get all these old athletes, it doesn’t matter what sport they were in, you see Eric Hipple today tackling people, Ron Rice tackling people. We all just want to help out the community and give back and these guys are amazing.”

A huge second inning from the white team proved to be the difference in the game. Highlighted by Peake’s triple to right field that scored Ogrodnick, Smolinski and Woolley, the white team scored seven quick runs to take a commanding 8-3 lead.

Many of the players looked like they could’ve worn baseball gloves instead of hockey skates back in the day.

“I think a lot played baseball or softball growing up so it’s fun to get back and out and play again,” Ciccarelli said. “I think one of the things ex-players probably miss the most is the camaraderie in the dressing room, the stories and being around other guys. So this is a chance to get back in the summer and share a lot of laughs and have a lot of fun.”

Everyone was certainly having fun. Down 10-3 in the top of the 5th, the red team decided to make a pitching change to overcome the 7-run deficit. McCarty replaced Mio at the mound and did a quick test of the wind before throwing his first pitch. It was a wild throw that flew behind Presley, but he made his point.

He wasn’t about to give up any easy runs and the white team began its comeback.

Dino Ciccarelli (Photo by Andrea Nelson/Detroit Red Wings)

Cicarelli’s triple scored Bowman in the top of the 7th to bring the red team within three runs. But that was as close as they’d get. A huge play by Redmond put a quick end to the red team’s run.

Redmond was the white team’s catcher and had been chasing down foul balls all evening. Then he finally got his chance. McCarty hit a foul ball that Redmond snatched right out of the air. The audience roared for the color commentator’s athletic play, but the red team sat down in protest. They didn’t think the foul ball flew high enough to be considered an out.

“I did!” Redmond said of catching the foul ball. “Absolutely and he was out! There’s no question about it, he was out!”

No one argued with Redmond. He was already getting ready to bat. It was the beginning of the end for the red team.

Kocur’s white team scored four more runs to extend its lead to seven before Hipple’s tackle on Ogrodnick ended the game on a fun, but sore, note.

“I had lots (of fun),” Redmond said after the game. “I’m looking for a large ice bag now. Lots of kinks and bruises, but we’ll get her iced down tonight and be ready to go tomorrow.”

Darren McCarty and Mickey Redmond
(Photo by Andrea Nelson/Detroit Red Wings)

It was Redmond’s first year participating in the charity softball game, but many of the players and attendees had been coming for years.

“This will be our third year that we’ve come out to this,” attendee Matt Clark said. “We’ve been Red Wings fans as long as I can remember and it’s always fun, always a good time to come out here and see all of the old guys play, see our favorite stars of yesteryear.”

The stars were more than happy to participate in Kocur’s event that gives all proceeds to the local children’s charities Team Kendal Kidz, Wings of Mercy East Michigan, Far Conservatory, the Huron Valley Special Olympics and the Lakeland High School Public Service Scholarship. Four years after its inception, the charity softball event continues to grow and Kocur couldn’t be happier with the results.

“Four years ago, I was sitting by a fire in my backyard and me and my neighbor, I just said I wanted to come up with something different and we came up with a softball game,” Kocur explained. “That year, we started to do our first one six weeks after our idea and we were somewhat successful, we raised $17,000 for that short of time.”

It was pretty successful. And it gets better every year.

“We just got smarter, we got wiser and we got a lot of people helping us,” Kocur said. “We couldn’t do this without our volunteers and all the board members and everything. Last year we raised $75,000 for this one day and I’m assuming we’re going to surpass that this year.”

Mickey Redmond (Photo by Andrea Nelson/Detroit Red Wings)

With names such as Redmond, Ciccarelli, Ogrodnick, Kocer and McCarty headlining the event, it’s not hard to see why the softball game has been so successful. Attendees can interact with their favorite sports figures and the former players can reunite one more time to enjoy the camaraderie of a team. But Kocur knows that the real winners are those who will receive his foundation’s generous donations.

“Like our alumni, we find a way to give back to the local communities,” Kocur said. “I started my own foundation with local charities and giving money back to people that I know and people that are in the Michigan area and I just love doing it.”

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