More than 800 players from 40 high schools competing in the 11th annual Autism Awareness Baseball Challenge will become a part of “Team Jules” in a show of solidarity and support for a young girl battling a rare form of pediatric brain cancer.
The event showcases seven teams currently ranked among the Top 20 statewide, more than two dozen players who have signed with or committed to major Division I colleges and several professional prospects who are expected to be selected in the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
Those participating in the three-day event, during which 20 games will be contested at North Brunswick’s Community Park from April 20 to 22, will receive specially designed wristbands in honor of Julie Hildebrand, a 4-year-old from Colonia who has been undergoing intense chemotherapy treatments at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia since being diagnosed four months ago with pineoblastoma.
In the name of every player who hits a home run during the challenge, the Teamwork Unlimited Foundation, an Edison-based nonprofit that sponsors the event, will make a donation to the Hildebrands to help defray the family’s medical expenses and personal expenses associated with caring for a critically ill child.
Players who homer during the baseball challenge will autograph a huge Dalmatian-themed baseball banner bearing the words “Homers for Hildebrand,” which will be displayed at the venue and presented to Julie and her family following the event. Dalmatians are Julie’s favorite. Stuffed animal versions of them have crowded her hospital bed. Clip art of a Dalmatian and a cancer ribbon adorn the specially designed “Team Jules” wristbands that players, coaches and umpires will receive.
Julie has fought her valiant battle — including multiple transfusions, MRIs, CT scans and spinal taps — with a smile on her face and an army of support, according to her mother, Rachel, who said each day brings Julie one step closer to winning the fight. Rachel is grateful for the community’s overwhelming support, which includes keeping Julie in its thoughts and prayers.
Mike Garlatti, a Colorado Rockies scout and former Rutgers University assistant coach who starred at Highland Park, founded the baseball challenge 11 years ago to heighten awareness about autism, the nation’s fastest-growing developmental disorder. As the event grew, Garlatti and his wife, Trisha, who have a son on the autism spectrum, founded Teamwork Unlimited, whose mission is to help those in need.
Money raised from the baseball challenge has benefited multiple individuals and organizations, including The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, Camp Fatima, the Center for Lifelong Learning, Wounded Warrior Project, Special Olympics New Jersey, PSE&G Children’s Specialized Hospital, and The Marisa Tufaro Foundation, among others.