WESTLAKE — Joey Rayl never thought his 7-year-old stuff would stand a chance against a big-leaguer, but he watched in amazement Monday as his pitch sailed past the swing of Cleveland Indians centerfielder Grady Sizemore.
Dominic Rayl, 9, of Willoughby, gets his Indians jersey autographed by Grady Sizemore at the home of the Fogle family in Westlake.
“I was surprised when he missed,” Joey said. “I’ve never pitched to anyone that good. It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
Bill and Linda Fogle — with sons Bobby, 8, Eric, 6, and Tommy, 3 — won the chance to host a Wiffle ball game with the Indians slugger in their own backyard when they were selected from more than 3,500 entrants for Direct Energy’s “Backyard Challenge.”
Greeted by a “Welcome to Fogles’ Field” sign above the garage and an Indians banner hanging from a wooden swing set, Sizemore arrived in comfortable black clothes, wearing tennis shoes and a smile that sparkled while signing autographs and posing for pictures with the Fogles’ family and friends.
For the Fogles’ niece, Abby Sutliff, 12, of Twinsburg, seeing one of her favorite players in the flesh took her by surprise.
“He looks so different without his helmet on,” she said. “He’s even cuter than I thought he was.”
While many of Sizemore’s teammates attended the team’s annual celebrity golf outing Monday, Sizemore took advantage of the day off to catch up on his Wiffle ball skills and to munch on some backyard favorites hot off the grill.
“This is a first for me,” he said. “Tomorrow, I’ll be bragging (to teammates) that I got the better end of the deal.”
In true pickup game fashion, kids counted off by twos to separate into teams and raised their hands feverishly for the opportunity to pitch to Sizemore.
In turn, he pitched to the more than 40 kids in attendance and even got on his knees to pitch to some of the crowd’s youngest.
Bill Fogle said that although Sizemore’s 6-foot, 2-inch frame took him by surprise, he admired his down-to-earth personality when surrounded by adoring fans young and old.
“He’s friendly and approachable,” he said. “There’s nothing fake about him.”
Following the game, Sizemore spoke about growing up a fan of the game and reminisced about what it was like to come across some of the big-league players he’s looked up to.
Being surrounded by the younger kids, he said, helped remind him what that feeling was like.
“It was fun, and I enjoyed it,” Sizemore said. “I’m a big kid at heart."
Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or firstname.lastname@example.org.