Washington baseball gathers for home run cause

Washington High School raises money at the annual Homerun Derby in honor of the lare Andrew Farrell. The money is used for scholarships and some is given to Children’s Hospital. (photo provided by Jason Welte)

On April 18, 2004, Andrew Farrell died at the age of 21 after a long battle with leukemia. The George Washington baseball community, and the world for that matter, lost an incredible person that day.

A member of the 2001 Washington baseball team, which completed an undefeated regular season, Farrell was a free-spirited, funny guy who always kept smiles on the faces of his teammates.

Cancer was Farrell’s only enemy.

Before his own battle with cancer, he lost his brother to the same disease in 1999, and then in 2003, he lost his mother to cancer. Somehow, through all of this, Farrell remained upbeat and positive. When he passed away eight years ago, the Washington baseball family came together in support.

Farrell was an incredible kid with a dynamic personality. During one special Saturday each May, he is remembered during the annual Andrew Farrell Spirit of Courage Home Run Derby.

This past Saturday was the eighth annual Derby at Washington. The event helps raise money for The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; this year’s field saw 70 participants in the Derby and raised more than $2,000. The weather was picture perfect with not a cloud in the sky. Former and current players, friends, alumni and community members shagged fly balls, swung for the fences, grabbed a hot dog and rekindled an old friendship or two.

Co-founders of the Derby (and former teammates of Farrell’s) Jason Welte and Craig Mullen were on hand once again, along with state Rep. Brendan Boyle, who spoke at the event. Katherine Barkman from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia spoke as well, and a $5,000 grant for the Youth Advisor Council was once again presented to CHOP.

Another tradition of the Home Run Derby is the scholarship award. Every year, Washington High honors a current player who most exemplifies Andrew on and off the field with a $2,500 grant known as the Andrew Farrell Spirit of Courage Scholarship Award. Previous award winners, Ken Radziak (2004), Matt Yankowitz (2005), Stan Borodyansky (2008) and Steve Leibovitz (2011), were in attendance.

This year, the scholarship was awarded to Corey Sharp, a junior who swings the bat well for the Eagles. However, Corey won the award because of his personality, not his bat.

“Corey personified Andrew to a T. He was always thinking about the team first and he is an overall great kid and teammate,” said Welte, a former 2002 All-Public left fielder for Washington.

Corey is the first junior to win the award.

Also in attendance was Andrew’s older brother, TJ, (GW Class of 1999), who never misses the Derby.

“The event was another huge success,” TJ Farrell said. “It was great catching up with old friends and alumni from both my year and my brother’s year, as well as other alumni from the baseball teams after my brother had passed, and meeting the new players.”

As for the baseball part of the event, the home run hitting…well, that didn’t go as planned.

There were only three home runs, a record low for the event. This year’s winner was first-time champion (and 2009 runner-up) Ryan Adcock, a graduate of Abington High School and Pepperdine University.

“I flopped. I was the main attraction, and I disappointed,” said Borodyansky, last year’s winner.

However, Borodyansky was able to find some excuses for his lackluster hitting display.

“I was the very first person to hit, so I didn’t feel so great swinging,” he said. “The wind was blowing in, so it added another element to it.”

Welte concurred.

“There was a real big crosswind, knocking balls down in the outfield,” he said.

TJ Farrell also agreed with Welte and Borodyansky, but he did give credit to pitching coach Joe O’Hara and his ageless arm.

“Usually balls fly out of this park in past events, but I think Coach O’s stuff was good,” TJ said, laughing. “The wind wasn’t too bad, but it definitely seemed to play a factor if you got the ball too high up in it. It seemed to knock the ball right down. In years past, some moon shots were seen and we really didn’t have any that stuck out.

O’Hara comes out every year to pitch for the event, he said.

“We can’t thank Coach O enough, not just for throwing thousands of pitches for us each year, but for everything he has taught us,” he said.

“His arm was good. He threw a million pitches as always. It’s amazing,” Borodyansky added.

The Derby honors the optimistic spirit of Andrew Farrell, and it truly represents what Andrew was all about: creating and developing friendships and simply having fun on the baseball diamond, all while raising money for a good cause.

“It’s an amazing thing to know that every player that touches that field is going to know who Andrew Farrell was, and what he stood for,” TJ Farrell said. “It’s truly an honor to our family and to him, who had gone through so much and never stopped fighting, even at the end. The turnout from family, friends and complete strangers is incredible and truly humbling.”

The event keeps the George Washington baseball family just that — a family. Andrew Farrell may be gone, but his spirit and courage allow us to build and mature a special family every year. ••

For more information about Andrew Farrell and the Home Run Derby, go to http://andrewfarrell.org/