Standing a few feet beyond the cutout in front of home plate, Austin Tuozzolo readied for the ceremonial first pitch with nearly everyone in attendance at Citi Field standing.
The 5-year-old from Huntington took a high leg kick, reared back and fired a strong throw to catcher Rene Rivera, who reached up slightly to nab the throw to spirited cheers from the crowd.
Austin and his 4-year-old brother, Joseph, lost their father Paul, an NYPD sergeant, in a Bronx shootout last year.
Because of the Answer the Call’s 33rd Annual Game and Family Day Picnic on Wednesday, both young boys were afforded the opportunity to stand on the field as part of the pregame proceedings. But the organization, founded by former Met Rusty Staub in 1985, is about much more than that.
“If it gives them that little surge of energy that is very hard to find in things in life, to bring some joy and happiness to them, that’s the purpose of this organization,” said Staub, who played for the Mets from 1972 to 1975 and again from 1981 to 1985.
Staub said families of those killed in the line of duty are quickly given a check for $25,000 “so they have no financial worries in the short run.” Then, every October, families receive a check for $8,000. He said he anticipates 650 such families this year.
“They’ve had this terrible loss, and we have so far for 33 years been able to maintain this . . . and it doesn’t look like we’ll be going away,” Staub said.
Since its inception, The New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund, has given out more than $130 million to families.
Austin and Joseph’s mother, Lisa, said she’s grateful that Answer the Call has been there for her.
“Just the ability to know that there is support for us when we feel like we’re alone and that we’re left to pick up the pieces,” she said of the organization’s importance. “Just knowing that an organization like this as well as the New York City Police Department is there to support us and have our backs.”
The Tuozzolos donned blue Mets jerseys gifted to them by her husband’s precinct softball team. A patch of Paul’s shield was stitched into each jersey’s right sleeve. Lisa wore No. 43 on her back, the number of Paul’s precinct.
“I don’t think they realize the scope and the honor that they’re being afforded to right now because of my husband’s sacrifice and this great organization,” she said, adding that she was nervous because her kids just started tee ball and their arms might not be “Major League quality” yet.
Austin put all worries to rest with a big leg kick and a strong throw.