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July 12, 2013

Weekend baseball tourney raises $15,000 for Matthew Bittker Foundation

By Mike Moore
C & G Sports Writer

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Weekend baseball tourney raises $15,000 for Matthew Bittker Foundation
Family and friends volunteering time have made the baseball tournament a huge success. From left, Halle Randolf, Elana Bittker, Erin Piligian, Susie Bittker and Harrison Kelly work the concession stand. Elana and Susie are Matthew Bittker’s sisters.

It began as a simple idea — a possibility to be kicked around.

Some three years later, it’s become an event generating more interest than ever expected.

And it’s all for a cause that needs every bit of the interest.

“Every year, we seem to turn away more teams than the year before,” Allan Bittker said of the annual Matthew Bittker Foundation baseball tournament, which was held June 21-23 in Franklin. “We’re limited to a max of 14 teams to host every year, and we’ve always had 14 teams.”

The tournament serves as one of the main fundraisers for the Foundation, which was created in 2007 after Matthew lost an 18-month battle at the age of 6 with neuroblastoma, a cancer occurring in infants and young children.

“It was Super Bowl weekend in 2006 when we noticed some extreme pain he was having,” Allan Bittker explained. “Shortly after, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, and the life expectancy is not good. … He lived about the average: 18 months.”

Bittker, a West Bloomfield resident, said his son was a typical young boy — happy, energetic and active.

But it was his love for baseball that served as the genesis for the tournament idea.

“I’d been involved with the Franklin Baseball League for years, and Matthew loved the game,” Bittker said. “He especially loved to watch games at the park in Franklin, where we host this. So, one thing just kind of led to another putting it together.”

This year’s crop of teams hailed from Franklin, Beverly Hills, Northville, Canton, Novi, Livonia, Plymouth, Farmington Hills, West Bloomfield and Clawson.­

Four divisions, ranging in age from 9 and under to 13 and younger, were guaranteed at least three games.

And with the weather cooperating, Bittker said the whole weekend was a success.

“To know we’re doing something that he had a passion in makes this very enjoyable for us,” Bittker said. “The thing you have to understand is how many people come out to volunteer, how many family and friends give of themselves to make this happen. Everyone, from the people at the concession stands to those setting up the field — I mean, that’s what makes this so special to us.”

As for the actual game play?

“The teams love it,” Bittker said. “The setting is perfect. We play in an awesome location. Everything is done the way we feel is the proper way to host something like this.”

Between team entry fees, sponsorships, donations, concessions and clothing sales, Bittker said $15,000 was raised over the three-day event, all of which will be donated to the Matthew Bittker Foundation.

To date, Bittker said the Foundation has raised approximately $400,000 to benefit pediatric cancer research.

“Pediatric cancer research is so underfunded,” Bittker said when asked about the importance of the Foundation. “There are so many of these diseases, but they are more rare, compared to adult cancers.”

“There has been some breakthrough treatment,” Bittker added. “The survival rates (for neuroblastoma) remain low, but they have improved from where they were. I think that has to do with efforts like this and what a lot of people have done.”

With the overall success the baseball tournament has experienced in its three years, Bittker said he plans remain to continue it as long as possible.

It’s a game serving as grounds for a battle he, and so many others, have dug into fight.

“Our ultimate hope is that the survival rates drastically increase,” he said. “Kids with cancer have so little hope, and our goal is to change that.”

Donations for the Matthew Bittker Foundation are always being accepted, and Allan Bittker said sponsorship spots for the 2014 baseball tournament are being accepted. For more information or to donate, visit www.itswhatmatters.org.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mike Moore at mmoore@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1038. Twitter Follow Mike on Twitter.