The loss of the man they called “Smiles” generated a lot of tears.
News of Brian Simonsen’s death earlier this year impacted the Riverhead High School softball team. A number of Blue Waves knew Simonsen, a graduate of their school. Simonsen, who served as a detective for the New York City Police Department, was killed in a friendly fire incident Feb. 12 while responding to an attempted robbery in Queens. He was 42.
“It hit us hard,” said centerfielder Alexis Polak.
The Blue Waves played in Simonsen’s memory Tuesday. His mother, Linda, and wife, Leanne, simultaneously threw out ceremonial first pitches and were presented with flowers and hats before a Suffolk County League II game against visiting Bay Shore. Riverhead assistant coach Dave McKillop and Leanne shared an emotional embrace.
“I think it was really special to everyone in their own way, especially since we’ve never really done something like that before, and it just really brought it close to home,” Riverhead second baseman Emily Bazarewski said after her team’s 6-3 loss. “It was just special to bring everyone together for the same reason and to just play for him.”
Riverhead first baseman Brooke McKay rattled off the names of six players who knew Simonsen, including herself. “I think it’s a really huge honor that we had such a hometown hero graduate from our school and be a Blue Wave and we all really want to follow in his footsteps because he did make some people smile every day,” she said. “He had such a good moral character.”
“Even though we didn’t come out on top, we all played for him today and I know he was watching over us,” she continued. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Try as they did, the Blue Waves (4-4, 3-2), wearing NYPD caps during the game, were unable to put a smiley face on this one. First-place Bay Shore (7-1, 6-1) rang up a run in each of the first three innings before pulling away further with a big-hit fifth inning. The Marauders scored three runs from five hits that inning. A leadoff triple socked by Jazmine Cuffie and a bouncing single by Daja Farmer (3-for-4, two RBIs) brought in the first of those runs. Later, Tess Lambie (2-for-3, walk) drove a double, Kaelyn Pellman belted an RBI double and Mariana Vargas reached out for a run-scoring single off the tip of third baseman Casey Dunbar’s glove for a 6-0 lead.
Bay Shore pitcher Gianna Postiglione worked six shutout innings of four-hit ball before exiting the game. April Grzegorczyk worked the last two innings in relief.
Riverhead saved its best for last, though, with a seventh-inning revival when it scored all three of its runs. After Katie Lysogorski (2-for-3) beat the shortstop’s throw for an infield single, pinch hitter Kaleigh Seal looped a double to bring her home. With two out, Polak shot a ball under the shortstop’s glove, allowing Seal to score. Then McKay stroked an RBI triple, making it a three-run game.
Just as things were starting to get interesting, though, it ended. Grzegorczyk retired Logan Carey on a flyout to end it.
“I definitely believed in us, but it’s OK,” Bazarewski said. “Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Some sloppiness on Riverhead’s part hurt its cause.
“Everyone has bad games; everyone has bad days,” McKay said. “We were overthinking everything. We just didn’t play normal softball, Riverhead softball, until the seventh inning.”
RBI singles by Farmer, Chrissy Coan and Lambie had staked Bay Shore to a 3-0 lead.
“We’re a good team. We just didn’t show that today,” said Riverhead coach Jackie Zilnicki.
With that came an explanation. If Riverhead looked rusty, there was a good reason for it.
“We’ve had a lot of rainouts, so this was our first game in over a week,” Zilnicki said. “In the past two weeks, we’ve only had two games, so we haven’t had a lot of live play.”
Of course, there were other things on the Blue Waves’ minds besides softball Tuesday — namely Simonsen.
“I hope he was watching us,” Polak said. “I just hoped he liked it and knows that we all love him.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Jordyn Stromski makes good contact on this swing, walloping a two-out double to the centerfield fence in the fourth inning. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)