By Matt Fortuna / MLB.com
NEW YORK — Boomer Esiason had been getting his feet wet at Jets minicamp in 1993, when he found out that his 2-year-old son, Gunnar, was taken to the hospital with breathing difficulties.
Gunnar was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a disease affecting the lungs and digestive system, and his father started the Boomer Esiason Foundation to heighten awareness and quality of life for those affected by the disease.
Eighteen years later, 20-year-old Gunnar has just completed his sophomore year at Boston College, and his father, now one of New York’s most recognized radio personalities, says the Boomer Esiason Foundation has raised close to $100 million for research aimed at finding a cure.
Esiason estimated the foundation raised upward of $30,000 on Monday at Yankee Stadium, where he hosted the Bombers Boomer Broadway Softball Classic, a pair of softball games that pitted Broadway stars against each other in the first game and WFAN All-Stars and Yankees alumni in the second.
Former Yankees Bernie Williams, Cecil Fielder and Homer Bush and former New York Knicks forward Anthony Mason were among the athletes on hand, in addition to “Sopranos” actors Steve Schirripa and Edie Falco and “Good Day New York” hosts Rosanna Scotto and Greg Kelly.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Esiason said afterward, “because we raise the money, but we also — for those of us selfishly — have a great time.”
Esiason was mic’d-up most of the day, encouraging teammates on the basepaths and spewing friendly trash talk throughout the sun-splashed afternoon.
Asked if he was pleased with the event in its first year, he replied: “Who wouldn’t be?”
“C’mon, I’m standing on Yankee Stadium grass,” Esiason added. “But the fact that I was able to play center field, first base and bat in that batter’s box is cool stuff.”
It was a change of pace from his playing days on the gridiron.
Esiason spent 14 seasons in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals, making the Pro Bowl four times, winning the 1988 NFL MVP Award and setting several records for left-handed quarterbacks, including 247 touchdown passes, 37,920 passing yards and 2,969 completions.
The Long Island native went into broadcasting after his football career, doing television broadcasts for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” before settling in his current roles as a Westwood One’s “MNF” radio analyst, as an analyst for CBS’ “NFL Today” and as a co-host of WFAN’s “Boomer and Carton in the Morning,” with Craig Carton.
Esiason’s high-profile jobs after his playing career have given him a platform for his foundation’s cause.
“I think that’s one of there reasons I did what I did,” he said. “I make no apologies for it. We only have about 30,000 patients, so there has to be a voice, there has to be an advocate.
“There are a lot of parents like me that are doing what I do, but they just don’t have the stage to do it that I’ve been afforded, so I’ll continue to try to do it any way that I can. And with the help of people like the Yankees, Major League Baseball, the NFL, all my friends, Broadway today, I can raise a lot of money. And that’s what I’ve done over the years.”
Esiason was afford the chance to watch Gunnar quarterback his high school team while at Friends Academy (Locust Valley), and the two continue to play ice hockey together.
“Cystic fibrosis patients have to fight it every day, and there are good days and bad days,” Esiason said of his son. “I would say today is one of the good days.”
For Williams, Monday was a culmination of a weekend that included his first Old-Timer’s Day on Sunday and a chance to reconnect with many of his former teammates.
“That was a great treat,” said Williams, who won four World Series titles with the Yankees during a 16-year career that ended in 2006. “It’s a great treat to have them. It took me back. It’s almost unbelievable how long it has been, and at the same time it, just feels like yesterday.”
Williams, a center fielder, made a cameo appearance on the mound in the second game, in which his “Bombers” team beat the “Boomer” team, 14-13.
Though Williams jokingly ruled out a big league comeback as a pitcher, he was pleased he and his former Yankees teammates had enough left in the tank to hold off Esiason’s gang of media members.
“It was great to have fun out there with Boomer and the guys,” Williams said. “Under any circumstances, we couldn’t let them beat us. No way. We would have heard about this for a whole month.
“But in all seriousness, it’s great to be contributing to his charity. He’s a standup guy. He does really good in the community. So it’s great to be supporting him.”
Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.