OUTSIDE NEW YORK CITY -- The day before his 13th birthday, Evan Sussman planned on heading to Germonds Park to watch his teammates on the Brewster Little League 10-11 all-star team compete in the Section 4 tournament Wednesday.
Instead, he ended up throwing out the ceremonial first pitch and received a baseball autographed by former Yankee and Rockland resident John Flaherty, to go along with plenty of applause from those in the crowd, as well as both teams.
Sussman, while considered a member of team, doesn’t play in the games, but instead keeps pitch counts and cheers on his teammates. That’s because Sussman, who has cerebral palsy, is in a wheelchair. He sits in the dugout with the team during games, and has done so in Brewster for the past three seasons.
However, when Brewster arrived in West Nyack for the Section 4 championship, the team was told that Sussman couldn’t sit in the dugout during games, as Little League rules state that only coaches and players can be in the dugout during games.
“It’s a liability issue,” said Joe Sagaria, administrator for District 18, which contains West Nyack and other Rockland Little Leagues. “We just have to go by Little League rules.”
Sussman wasn’t allowed to sit in the dugout Sunday when Brewster beat LaGrange, 4-1. Brewster Little League officials and coaches then started working on filing a waiver with Little League to allow Sussman in the dugout. The waiver was presented to West Nyack Little League Wednesday before Brewster’s semifinal game against West Nyack, and he was back in the dugout that night.
“He was thrilled,” said Karen Kushnir, Sussman’s mother. “He was very excited that he’d be allowed back in the dugout. He just wants to be with his teammates.”
And so before the game, Sussman was announced with his team and brought out on the field. He was wearing his green Brewster No. 1 jersey. After he was announced, the crowd and both teams cheered loudly, so Sussman quickly tipped his cap twice.
On hand during the pre-game ceremony were Rockland County Legislator Ed Day and Scott Salmon, who works with Jawonio and the local Challenger Little League district.
“I had a woman call my office who was very upset about the whole situation,” Day said. “I heard they were getting the waiver and wanted to come out tonight to welcome Evan to Rockland properly. I’ve known Joe a long time, and he wasn’t keeping him from the dugout to be mean or anything. He was just following the rules that are in place, and thankfully Little League did the right thing and granted the waiver.”
Day said he spoke to Sussman and his mother before the game.
“I just wanted to tell them that’s not how we do things in Rockland,” he said. “I wanted to make sure he’d [be] accommodated and comfortable.”
Kushnir said she and her son felt very welcomed by the Rockland and West Nyack communities.
“Everyone’s been incredibly nice about everything,” she said. “And I think Evan handled it all really well. He was disappointed when they told him he couldn’t go in the dugout, but I explained why to him and he said he understood. He watched the game from right outside the dugout and said he was close enough.”
A late rally Wednesday night gave West Nyack a 6-1 win, putting them in the championship game Friday night. Brewster still has a chance to win the tournament. On Thursday, Brewster will face Middletown in the loser’s bracket finals for a spot in the title game.
Sussman will be there once again, cheering on his teammates and hoping for a birthday victory.