Sgt. Chris Foti’s base of operations Saturday was at a table set up at Central Park’s Snowden Avenue baseball fields, with a radio, a microphone and a tall, gold trophy.
What he would be doing at any one moment, no one knew for sure — collecting donations, paying the pizza-delivery guys, handing out T-shirts or answering questions. Just a half-hour into Saturday’s charity softball tournament, he was fiddling with the radio, playing “Callin’ Baton Rouge” for what would be the first of many times that day.
“Don’t forget about Little John’s behind me. Barbecue! I wanna see some people movin’. And lastly, but not least,” he grumbles low and pauses as he searches for the track button on the stereo, “let us hear a little Guns N’ Roses.”
High-pitched guitar chords blared over the fields where two games were underway Saturday morning. In front of Foti’s table was the Schenectady Fire Department playing Scotia-Glenville police. Off to the side, closest to the tree line, Colonie police were playing the Schenectady County Public Defender’s Office.
At the sixth annual charity softball tournament, put on each year by Foti and the Fraternal Order of Police No. 8, egos were on the line. Local police, firefighters and county and city workers had eight hours to duke it out for yearlong bragging rights. Other participants Saturday included the towns of Rotterdam and Niskayuna and state police.
While the scene in Central Park was testosterone-fueled — “Eat it!” was a common refrain Saturday — the people who help organize and participate in the event each year do it for far more than a trophy.
Foti is a massive, lumbering, giant of a man, but his domineering appearance has much more to do with his personality. A transplant from New York City, he speaks like the city cops in movies. His friends say he’s the smallest of three brothers in his family, and when he runs off to do a quick errand Saturday, they describe him as a “big teddy bear.”
“He loves this charity stuff,” says one.
It was Foti’s idea to host a charity softball event in the first place. Six years ago, he realized the local FOP didn’t have any way of giving back to the community.
“We wanted to establish ourselves as a lodge upstate,” he said. “We wanted a vehicle to do things like this, to give back to the community, as well as raise money for the local FOP lodge. So I raised my hand, and said 'How about a softball tournament?’ ”
Since then, the lodge has raised money for local organizations like Schenectady Inner City Ministry and a group created by Union College students that wanted to clean up Jerry Burrell Park. Each group has some special meaning to the lodge, and each of their missions strike Foti as in line with the missions of local law enforcement.
The annual event usually raises between $2,000 and $3,000, he said.
This year, a portion of the proceeds will go to Things Of My Very Own Inc., a Schenectady nonprofit that provides crisis-intervention services to children in emergency situations — particularly in cases of extensive abuse and neglect. If Foti thinks about the group’s mission for too long, tears will prick at his eyes, and he will laugh it off as him being a “softy.”
The rest of the proceeds will go to the Schenectady Auxiliary Police, a volunteer-run organization that has assisted police throughout the county for the last 63 years.