The second annual Cloudbuster Invitational, a youth baseball tournament benefiting the Fitch Family Comprehensive Pediatric Rehabilitation Program at UNC Children’s Hospital, will take place this weekend at the Parkwood Ballfield in Durham.
The tournament and the rehabilitation program are both inspired by Lee Fitch, a young Chapel Hill resident who was struck by a car on Laurel Hill Road two years ago. After suffering a massive traumatic brain injury, Fitch was kept in the UNC Children’s pediatric intensive care unit in a coma for three days.
When Lee Fitch woke up and his parents were asking for rehabilitation options, they said they didn't find the answers they were looking for.
“Once he woke up and they're doing some more assessments, they told us that they were looking for a place for us to go,” David Fitch, Lee Fitch’s father and local business owner, said. “We were flabbergasted. Why in the hell would we go anywhere? We’re in the best hospital in the state."
The Fitch family then spent two months at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where Lee Fitch made a full physical recovery. Disappointed by the lack of a pediatric rehabilitation program in the Triangle area, the Fitches decided to bring a change to UNC Children’s Hospital.
David Fitch said UNC football head coach Mack Brown and his wife Sally Brown provided initial funding to name the project The Fitch Family Comprehensive Pediatric Rehabilitation Program. In the past year, $3 million has been raised through fundraising events like the Cloudbuster Invitational.
The baseball tournament will start off on Friday with a surprise "big name Tar Heel" throwing the first pitch, Jody Mills, a friend of the Fitch family and the tournament’s organizer, said. Four local 12-and-under traveling baseball teams will compete for the winning title, and there will be a home run derby at night.
Lee Fitch, who just celebrated his 12th birthday last week, will be playing in the tournament alongside his Little League teammates on the Carolina Rattlers.
“It's kind of celebrating his recovery,” Mills said. “It's raising awareness for this program, which hopefully can provide similar services to kids for years to come.”
Charlie Farris, owner of Al’s Burger Shack and multiple Jersey Mike’s locations in North Carolina, said Jersey Mike’s will cater the event on Saturday and Al’s will cater on Sunday. He added that Brandwein’s Bagels will be at the event on Saturday morning and that all three businesses plan to donate their profits.
"They took just an absolute devastating situation and turned it into something positive and amazing and dedicated themselves — and a lot of their life at this point — to raise money for this rehab facility that's needed in North Carolina and in the southeast," Farris said.
Mills said he came up with the idea for a baseball tournament after reading about a little-known part of Chapel Hill history.
“The Cloudbuster name came from the Navy World War II baseball team that was housed at UNC-Chapel Hill,” he said.
The historical baseball team was composed of some of the most notable players a the time, including Johnny Pesky and Ted Williams, both of whom were record-setting players for the Boston Red Sox.
In honor of the tournament’s namesake, the Chapel Hill-Durham men’s fitness group F3 — which stands for fitness, fellowship and faith — will undertake a 12-hour rucking event where they carry weighted backpacks and hike anywhere from 10 to 20 miles, Mills said. They will begin after the National Anthem on Friday evening and continue through the night.
“It's just been trying to identify as many opportunities to pull in as many different groups as we can to chip in to support the cause, whether that's from donating field time to making donations on behalf of your business,” Mills said.
Spectators are encouraged to come and cheer on the players, Farris said. Attendance is free, and community members can donate to the Fitch Family Comprehensive Pediatric Rehabilitation Program.
There is also an online auction featuring items such as a basketball signed by the UNC men’s team and a private suite at a Durham Bulls home game.
Farris urged people to come to the tournament for good food, good baseball and to raise money for a great cause.
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