By Joe Rini
If a pitcher throws Alex Rodriguez a “cookie” over the plate, he’ll drive it deep into the upper deck of Yankee Stadium. But thanks to Rockland’s Frank Squeo giving Alex and his teammates some cookie dough, they helped bring joy to the lives of children with life-threatening diseases.
On August 21, the New York Yankees honored Frank Squeo of Rockland County and his “Baking Memories 4 Kids” foundation as a HOPE Week honoree in a surprise (to Mr. Squeo) ceremony at the Rockland BOCES in West Nyack and later that evening at Yankee Stadium.
Since 2009, the Yankees HOPE Week initiative (Helping Others Persevere and Excel) has highlighted the goodwill of individuals, families, and organizations. Honorees get to share their inspirational stories with members of the Yankees, the media, and fans in a day that starts with a surprise and culminates on the Yankee Stadium diamond.
Frank Squeo started “Baking Memories 4 Kids” three years ago after surviving his own bout with cancer. This non-profit organization bakes and sells chocolate chip cookies during the holiday season and uses the proceeds to fund all-expenses-paid-vacations to theme parks for the families of children with life-threatening diseases.
It had been a whirlwind day for Frank Squeo when we spoke after he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Yankees-Indians game this past Friday night. Under the ruse that he needed to check an issue at the baking facility, Squeo said he arrived at the facility stunned to see family, friends, media, and seven Yankee players in baking aprons and hats ready to pay tribute to him as a HOPE Week honoree and bake some cookies, too. The Yankees also presented Squeo with a check for $10,000 to benefit “Baking Memories 4 Kids.”
Besides Rodriguez, the players who joined in the baking were CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, Brendan Ryan, Greg Bird, and Adam Warren.
Later that evening at the stadium, Squeo was joined on the field by the Diaz family, whose 4-year old son Noah suffers from Kabuki syndrome and a rare heart defect, and it was announced to the surprise of Noah and his siblings that their family would be going to Disney World courtesy of “Baking Memories 4 Kids,” this holiday season.
Speaking to Frank Squeo after the on-field festivities, he described making the acquaintance of Frank Swaine, the Yankees’ ticket director under George Steinbrenner, when he wrote to him as a 16-year old in 1970’s when he sought better seats. Over the years, he’d write to Swaine periodically and when they eventually met, Swaine remembered him from his letters. Ten years later in 2007, after Squeo was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer, a friend of his contacted Swaine, who contacted Sloan-Kettering and helped Squeo gain admittance to the premier cancer treatment center.
“Without the Yankees, I wouldn’t be alive today,” the life-long Yankee fan told me, stating his cancer “was days away” from affecting his brain and spleen, which would’ve made treatment unfeasible. While the cancer treatment wasn’t easy, Frank Squeo said one can’t let the disease beat you. More significantly, his experience led him to start his foundation to help children dealing with life threatening diseases. “Everything happens for a reason,” he said.
Squeo said this day was not about him and he showed it on the field during the first pitch ceremony. Rather than stand at the mound to bask in the applause, Noah and Noah’s father joined him near home plate and after Squeo showed Noah by gentling under handing the ball to the catcher, Noah joyfully bounced the ball to the catcher, delighting the fans.
Squeo said he never could’ve envisioned how the foundation has grown in three years, which has sent 11 families to theme parks to date and will send 11 more this year.
The foundation is run by Frank and his cousin and is propelled by a legion of volunteers that includes 400 volunteer bakers and no one connected to the foundation receives a salary. All proceeds go to deserving families.
Squeo said an appearance on the Today Show in 2014 helped raise awareness for the foundation and as will being a HOPE Week honoree. As Frank Squeo said about being a HOPE Week honoree amidst the celebration on Friday in West Nyack, “It’s such an amazing blessing. It will shine more hope and I can send more families and that’s what it’s all about…and we do it by selling cookies.”
For more information on how to order cookies, make a tax-deductible donation, or nominate a deserving family, please see their website at www.bakingmemories4kids.com.