The throw was good as soon as it left Lucca Cerullo’s right hand.
The eight-year-old from Stony Brook was one of four children who threw out a ceremonial first pitch before Wednesday night’s Mets-Pirates game.
“I thought I could (reach home plate),” said Cerullo, who threw a strike from the front edge of the mound. (Not bad for a Little Leaguer.) “I also know that this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Cerullo’s opportunity occurred because of a once-in-a-lifetime person: former Mets great Rusty Staub, who died on March 29.
Wednesday was the annual barbecue for the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, a non-profit organization that Staub founded in 1985.
“Obviously, it’s tough with Rusty not being here,” David Wright said. “But it’s great that Ron (Darling) and Jay (Bruce) and the other guys came out to give their time to these amazing families.”
Wright, Darling, Bruce, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki met with 700 family members, took pictures and signed autographs prior to the game.
For more than 30 years, Staub and the Mets have hosted families of NYPD, FDNY and PAPD who had family members killed in the line of duty; first at Shea Stadium, and recently at Citi Field, for the “Annual Game and Family Day”.
Norman Cerullo Jr. — Lucca’s father — was just three years old when his father, Norman Sr., was killed in the line of duty while serving the NYPD in Brooklyn’s 79th Precinct in 1978.
“I started coming as a kid to some of those early (barbecue) games,” said the 43-year-old Cerullo, who still has an autographed baseball and yearbook from the 1986 Mets team.
“It’s very tough,” added the Centereach High School graduate. “This is the first year that Rusty is not with us. But, in a sense, it’s bittersweet, because the fact that we’re here this year without Rusty, I think is a testament to the legacy that he’s left.”
Staub’s legacy is both far-reaching and incredible. The foundation (www.answerthecall.org) has raised more than $140 million.
“Just because he’s gone, the organization and charity benefits continue,” said Cerullo, who has been a volunteer for the foundation the last six years. “There’s over 600 families like mine.”
Families who have been helped because of the generosity and foresight of the man nicknamed: Le Grand Orange.
“This is one of the rare opportunities,” Cerullo said, “where families can get together and make something that’s negative — to put it mildly, or horrific — into something positive.”
Sign up for Newsday’s Mets Messages for updates directly to your phone via text, free with a Newsday digital subscription. Learn more at newsday.com/metstext.