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Former MLB pitcher Tommy John headlines Crush event

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Nine-year-old Chris Boylan, of Homer, gets an autographed ball from former New York Yankees pitcher Tommy John on Saturday during the Cortland Crush Ice Crusher at the Ramada inn in Cortland.

Sean Babcock’s Extra Mile Award, which he received Saturday night at the Ice Crusher Hot Stove event put on by the NYCBL’s Cortland Crush at the Cortland Ramada Inn, was made extra special for him.

That’s because former major league pitcher Tommy John was the guest speaker at the event.

“Growing up I was a Yankee fan and a left-handed pitcher,” Babcock said. “It was great, almost an extra honor, to get an award in front of Tommy John, one of my idols.”

For his part John, the namesake of the famous arm-saving surgery (replacing a damaged elbow ligament with a tendon from the opposite forearm) that he was the first to undergo and that is now routinely performed, kept the crowd entertained throughout the evening. He mingled and signed autographs before and after the dinner and his time at the microphone, during which he touched on a number of subjects, mostly humorous.

One such story dealt with his attempt while managing the Bridgeport Bluefish independent pro team to get comedian Don Rickles, a friend of his, to come to town for a weekend to manage the team, which included four players from the Israeli national team, for the weekend. “He said Tommy, I wouldn’t come to Bridgeport if the entire State of Israel was there,” John laughed.

Beforehand, John, who also visited with coach Joe Brown — also the NYCBL commissioner — and the SUNY Cortland baseball team over the weekend, spoke about lessening the chance of arm injuries in young athletes through proper development of their talent.

“Don’t put them on travel teams, let them play other sports,’ he said. “And get the whole body healthy, fit and strong, which helps lessen the stress on the arm while throwing.”

John, who noted that he pitched his first professional game in Syracuse for the Jacksonville Suns at age 19, praised summer league such as the NYCBL. “It’s great for these kids to have a place to come and play the game,” he said. “Will they ever play professionally? Probably not, but they get a chance to try.”

THE CRUSH HAS PRESENTED the Extra Mile Award at its Ice Crusher for three years now. In all three years, the honoree has been a member of the same family…the Cortland High baseball family.

The circle stayed unbroken with Babcock at Saturday’s event, which also featured the return of another ex-major league hurler, Steve Grilli, the main speaker at the first Ice Crusher in 2015, as a guest.

Longtime Purple Tigers head coach and community youth advocate/volunteer John Tobin was the initial Extra Mile Award honoree in 2015, followed last year by former Purple Tiger and current Cortland Youth Bureau employee David Pitts.

“John was the first one to get it, and I feel like I’m following in his footsteps,” said Babcock, who through the years has assisted Tobin in the CHS baseball program and in various youth sports. “I’m doing something I love to do. It feels good to be recognized, but the best part of it is seeing kids grow and be successful, then come back and say we had a lot to do with it.”

Babcock was a three-year starter for the Cortland High varsity baseball team under coach John Tavarone, after starting his varsity career with a home run in his one at-bat as a freshman call-up from John Pilato’s JV team. He was an all-leaguer all three varsity seasons as a centerfielder the first two and as a pitcher in the third.

He was also a linebacker/fullback for two years on the varsity football team, earning all-league honors at linebacker as a senior and earning all-league honors as a linebacker his senior year. He was MVP of both the football and baseball teams as a senior, and for two years ran the 100 meters and was part of the 1,600 relay foursome as a member of the indoor track team.

He pitched for the Onondaga CC baseball team for one season and, after college, came back to Cortland and eventually rejoined the CHS baseball family.

“When Sean came back from college he started playing softball with us for Lido in the slowpitch league,” Tobin said. “We got to be friends and later, going into my second or third year as head coach, I asked him to help me with baseball and he gladly did. He’s worked at all three levels of the Cortland baseball program…varsity, JV and Modified. We also coached Small Fry football together.

“He has stayed on with Ben (Albright, CHS’s current coach), helping when he can. He’s the primary one now running the team’s winter workouts in the County Office Building gym, with hitting, throwing and infield drills every Sunday from Thanksgiving until practice starts in March. The last 20 years or so he’s volunteered his time with many programs; when his job with UPS allows him to be there, he’s always there. I don’t know where he finds the time.”

Babcock worked with the Homer Little League when his sons Andrew, currently a sophomore at TC3 and a member of the baseball team, and Alex, now a senior at CHS, played there. He’s also coached at the Babe Ruth, Connie Mack and American Legion levels, the latter as the current head coach.

Babcock has also been involved in coaching basketball and softball teams his daughter Lyndsie, a Cortland High freshman this season, has played for.

“When I was young, playing sports and listening to coaches kept me out of trouble; now as a coach I can give back to the community, and it still keeps me out of trouble,” Babcock said with a laugh. “My wife Michele had been supportive 100 percent,” he said. “She loves the game, too.”

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