By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
As they gear up for the start of the National Hockey League season, Buffalo Sabres past and present made a stop at the Miracle League in Veterans Park Monday to play with the special needs ballplayers.
Sabres Day at the adaptive diamond off Bedell Road took place despite a threat of rain.
Defenseman Mike Weber was making a repeat appearance at the Grand Island Miracle League Field after having played on the diamond when it first opened in 2011. He said he comes back for "the smiles on all the kids' faces. That's probably the biggest reason why you want to come out. They're all special individuals who, like us, love and enjoy sports. It's unbelievable that they're able to have this great field to be able to come and participate and have some fun and play. That's what it's all about, is it's playing and having fun."
Sabres Alumni Craig Muni, Richie Dunn and Rene Robert signed autographs and posed for pictures with Miracle League players before taking the field. (Photo by Larry Austin)
Current Sabres Weber, Mark Pysyk, Zach Bogosian, Johan Larson and Rasmus Ristolainen helped Miracle League players around the bases, at the plate and in the field. "There's a huge contingent of our alumni here," Weber pointed out.
Sabres Alumni included Renee Robert, Larry Playfair, Richie Dunn, Rob Ray and Craig Muni.
"It's an honor to be a part of the current players to be asked to come out and participate and be a part of this with the kids," Weber said.
The Sabres and the Sabres Alumni have visited the Miracle League for four years, since the very beginning when the field opened in April of 2011. The Sabres organization and the Sabres Alumni both were instrumental in fundraising "to get the field started," said Miracle League President RJ Wynne.
Sabretooth stepped out of the rain and greeted Miracle Leaguers in their dugout.
"It's the kids' favorite event of the year," Wynne said of the annual Sabres Day. "And the Sabres and the alumni have always been gracious enough to stop out and share their time with the kids."
For players like Weber, participating in community service is all part of a company culture of the Sabres that reflects its fan base.
"It truly is One Buffalo, one community, and it's been that way for years and years and years," he said. "This is our community, this is our town, this is our city and, like anyone else in this city, we're always willing to lend out a helping hand, to come out and do whatever we can to see the smiles out here every year."
The last game of the Miracle League season is a Halloween game at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4.
"Costumes are encouraged," Wynne said.
Mike Weber was one of the current Buffalo Sabres who played ball with the Miracle Leaguers in Veterans Park.