Wish StoriesVeteran & NYC Firefighter Throws First Pitch for Yankees
When Salvatore thinks of home, he’s transported back to New York City. Just like it was yesterday, he remembers the bustling city streets, the perfect slice of New York-style pizza, and of course, the energy of Yankee Stadium on a Saturday.
Sal, age 87, is a charismatic Bronx native who grew up with a deep desire to protect and serve others. And he did just that, serving in the U.S. Army for two years as a radio operator in Germany during the Korean War.
After his service, Sal returned home to protect his fellow New Yorkers as a police officer. After five years on the police force, he found his true calling as a firefighter. In 1957, at age 28, Sal joined Ladder Company 136 and spent the next 20 years with the FDNY at different firehouses throughout the city.
“I spent the best years of my life working with memorable heroes in NYC’s fire department,” Sal said.
Sal found purpose within the fire department, fueled by adrenaline and brotherhood. He gained many stories throughout the years, which he loves to share with others. “Everybody was a character,” he said, chuckling. “I miss it every day.”
Sal has shown equal dedication to his family. He and Rosie, his wife of 65 years, raised two sons, one of whom followed in Sal’s footsteps and became a firefighter and paramedic. Sal was very involved in their lives, coaching the boys in little league and chaperoning school field trips
Sal and Rosie suffered a tremendous loss five years ago when their oldest son was killed in a car accident. They are mourning his death, and the pain of losing him is a daily obstacle for Sal. He has felt disconnected and struggled to find a sense of happiness again. Now living in Florida, Sal often misses his life in the big city.
When we heard Sal’s story, we jumped at the opportunity to honor his service and dedication to others and recognize his resilient spirit. With help from the New York Yankees, we created a plan that would surely put a smile on Sal’s face again.
Sal, accompanied by his son Nick and grandson Nick Jr., flew to the Big Apple for a long-awaited return. “I could tell from the second we got to New York it would be a special day,” Sal said.
And where else could this momentous trip begin besides Ladder 136? Upon arriving, Sal was greeted with warmth and respect by the current firemen who welcomed him back home. And to his surprise, the crowd also included Yankees players, who had gathered to celebrate Sal as part of the Yankees’ Hope Week initiative. Sal shook their hands, making them smile and laugh as he talked gameplay with the professional athletes.
The historic 100+-year-old firehouse had been renovated since his last visit, but the feeling of brotherhood between the firefighters was just as he remembered.
“I felt at home all weekend,” Sal said. “Everything about the building has changed, but the love and my sense of pride have stayed the same.”
But the day was far from over. Sal and his family joined the ball players for batting practice and were treated to a VIP viewing of Yankees memorabilia. Holding pieces of baseball history brought back memories of Sal’s first game with his father in 1936 when he saw the iconic first baseman Lou Gehrig play.
And then, Sal was given the ultimate honor for a New Yorker: he threw out the game’s first pitch.
“I didn’t think I could throw a pitch, but I did it!” he said joyfully. “It was such a special, memorable emotional moment.” And sharing the day with his son and grandson made it even more meaningful.
The Yankees team and players went above and beyond to make this wish incredibly special for Sal. Wish of a Lifetime would like to express our appreciation for their generous $10,000 donation to our organization to continue granting wishes and sharing stories like Sal’s that inspire people of all ages.
Recounting his wish story, the charismatic New Yorker was practically at a loss for words. Sal has stayed in contact with people he met during his trip home and shared that he feels revitalized and happy.
“I feel more connected and alive than I ever have before,” Sal said. “This experience was more than I ever dreamed of.”
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