This was not about a baseball game — it was so much bigger than that. This was about two communities that came together through love for family to celebrate the life of a fallen police officer at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip on Monday.
More than a thousand people were on hand to honor Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo, who worked in the 43rd Precinct of the South Bronx and was killed in the line of duty on Nov. 4, 2016.
The neighboring towns of North Babylon and West Islip recognized Sgt. Tuozzolo and his commitment to family and community through his 19 years of police work. His wife of five years, Lisa Martinolich-Tuozzolo, wearing a Tuozzolo jersey with his badge number 870 across the back, and their two young sons Austin, 5, and Joseph, 4, enjoyed the game.
“I’m honored for Paul that people care and I don’t want anyone to forget what he sacrificed,” Martinolich-Tuozzolo said. “He bled blue and loved his job. He went to work every day to protect people. His guys would do anything for him because he was a true leader. I’m thrilled at how the communities came together for this.”
The boys, along with their mother, threw out the first pitches. Martinolich-Tuozzolo accepted an authenticated American flag that was flown by the Port Authority of NY-NJ over the One World Trade Center. The flag was delivered by Dan Rhein, an 18-year veteran of the Port Authority, and a 1993 graduate of North Babylon High School.
Rhein, who graduated with Lisa, said, “I wanted to reach out and do something special for the family. It’s an honor to be in the brotherhood. I could forget about ninety-nine percent of the people in high school but she was one worth remembering. Her husband saved his partner’s life and his death was senseless.”
North Babylon won, 5-4, on a walk-off, infield single by Nick Elliot that scored Nick Burke in the eighth inning. North Babylon’s Paul Tchinnis had a pair of two-run singles.
Both schools wore commemorative uniforms and all the proceeds from the game and fundraising events will go toward memorial scholarships for both schools in Sgt. Tuozzolo’s name.
“I have two digital memory boxes, one for each of our sons,” Martinolich-Tuozzolo said. “It’s so important that I remind my kids every day about who their Dad was and that he served the community to make a better world.”
North Babylon baseball coach Steve Corrado said, “Lisa connects the districts. She was a grad of North Babylon and now the assistant principal at West Islip High School. She’s as good a person as I’ll ever know. Her loss was our loss and it was overwhelming.”
Corrado contacted West Islip coach Shawn Rush and the two agreed to play a Suffolk League IV game at the home of the Long Island Ducks.
“We saw two big South Shore school districts come together like family to support one of their own,” said Glen Eschbach, the superintendent of North Babylon schools. “The message was clear. You’re a member of the North Babylon community forever, no matter where you go. It’s an awful tragedy and heartbreaking but the family knows they have a large support system.”