Suns honor neighborhood champions

June 27, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - Mike Weller's pitching arm won't earn him much time on a professional playing field. For the community he serves, that's probably a good thing.

Weller, a Hagerstown Fire Department public education officer, was among four people honored as "Neighborhood Champions" during the Hagerstown Suns' pregame festivities Sunday.

He bounced the ceremonial first pitch into the chest of outfielder Carlos Gomez.

"I'll tell you, if I'd have two or three (pitches), we would have been fine," Weller joked after the throw.

Besides Weller, the Suns honored Heather Albowicz, a Hagerstown Police Department school resource officer, nurse Wendy Zimmerman and Washington County Public Schools teacher Linda Heinrich before a game against the Lexington, Ky., Legends.


According to Suns general manager Kurt Landes, the Suns also honored each of the individuals at games earlier in the week. Only Weller and Albowicz were able to attend Sunday; fellow nurse Cathy Ware showed up on behalf of Zimmerman.

"It's kind of Americana, essentially - recognizing neighborhood champions, and baseball and having a chance to recognize people at the ballbark," Landes said before the game.

About 100 people were nominated, Landes said. The national program honors firefighters, police officers, teachers and health-care workers, he said.

Albowicz, who teaches students about such issues as sexual harassment and drunk driving, said she was honored to be named one of the heroes.

"I hope that I was nominated because people see that I do enjoy what I'm doing, being around the kids, being in the schools," said Albowicz, who has served on the force for five years. "It's not about writing tickets or locking kids up, it's about making a difference in one kid's life."

Albowicz works out of North Hagerstown High School, but travels to schools throughout the North End, she said.

Weller has helped promote fire safety through his department's annual smoke alarm testing and distribution program. According to Landes, who spoke about each of the heroes before the game, Weller was one of three founders of Children's Village, where all county second-graders attend two days of safety classes.

"I'm very honored, it's very humbling to be honored by the community," Weller said as he stood on a ramp near the seats behind home plate.

A baseball fan, Weller acknowledged he had doubts about his pitching abilities.

"To make matters worse, I know the guy who's the public address announcer - he used to be one of our 911 operators - so he'll heckle the heck out of us," Weller said.

Announcer Rick Reeder didn't.

Weller said he was just happy to be on the field.

"That's the first time I've stepped on - I don't want to say a 'real' baseball field - but a professional field," Weller said.

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