* Written by Kristie Ackert
** This story originally appeared in the NY Daily News on March 13th
PORT ST. LUCIE - Gavin Cecchini recognized the pictures. The destroyed schools, the flooded-out cars, the ruined homes and homeless families. Cecchini has never been to the devastated neighborhoods in Staten Island, Brooklyn or Queens, but he immediately recognized the aftermath of a deadly storm.
“I was just watching the news and the pictures just hit me,” Cecchini, 19, said. “I saw cars flooded and the homes. I saw a car blow up outside MCU Park (the home of the Mets’ New York-Penn League affiliate in Coney Island).
“I’ve seen that before. I felt a connection. I was drafted by the Mets, this is my extended family now and I could do something to help... I knew I had been blessed with this talent and if I could use it to help my extended family, it’s what I wanted to do.”
The product of Lake Charles, La., donated $10,000 to the Mayor Fund for Sandy Relief to help New York City residents rebuild after the superstorm. The shortstop said that watching the storm ravage parts of the city on the news brought back memories of his hometown being hit hard by Hurricane Rita in 2005, just months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.
“We were lucky. Our house wasn’t destroyed, we lost some shingles and a tree fell on it, but the town and the houses around us were hit really hard,” Cecchini said. “I saw houses that were torn straight off the slabs. All of Lake Charles was hit hard. Our schools were destroyed.”
At the time, Cecchini, then 12, evacuated to Texas with his family. Eventually they headed to California to wait for their hometown to be inhabitable again.
“The damage was so severe you weren’t allowed to go out at night. There was a curfew,” Cecchini said. “You just couldn’t live there.”
Cecchini hit .240 one home run and 22 RBI in 58 games between Port St. Lucie and Brooklyn in 2012. He is in his first spring training with the Mets and, if he makes it, he’s still a few years away from making New York his home.
“I can’t wait to get to Citi Field. I know I have work to do before I get there, but I figured I could help now with a donation,” Cecchini said. “I just wanted to give something back.”