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Retired New York Mets All-Star first baseman Keith Hernandez chaired the annual fundraiser for the Cobble Hill Health Center on Tuesday - scoring another homerun in the process. The World Series winner brought together dozens of famous athletes from all over the country for his "Field of Dreams" event, which in turn attracted hundreds of sports fans to the $1,000-a-plate benefit.

"This event has become my third leg or middle arm," Hernandez told GO Brooklyn while signing baseballs proffered by the crush of fans that encircled him. "It’s hard work, but now it’s getting easier. People come and they have a good time when they’re here, and they come back the next year."

For New York sports fans, the event was a night to remember. The gala honored 1986 World Champion Mets Manager Davey Johnson, the man who put that team together, former general manager Frank Cashen, and Bank of America Executive Vice President Jeffrey Barker.

Hernandez, who has helmed the fundraiser the last five years, lost his mother, Jacquelyn Hernandez, to Alzheimer’s disease in 1989. She was 59. The funds raised at the gala are earmarked for a planned assisted living center for Alzheimer’s care at the Cobble Hill Health Center.

"All the members of families of Alzheimer’s patients are affected," said Hernandez. "Everybody’s involved somehow with this disease. It touches everyone.

"We’re hoping to have raised $600,000 to $750,000 tonight," he added.

Said Cobble Hill Center CEO Olga Lipschitz, "Each year [Hernandez] raises over a half-million dollars for us. It’s a beautiful thing he’s doing."

Hernandez said he supports the Cobble Hill Health Center because of the quality of its care, and because "they provide care for people who can’t afford it - lower income families. I want to make this type of care more accessible for people."

The master of ceremonies for the event was legendary sportscaster Warner Wolf, who kept the mood light while diners supped at sparkling green tables with centerpieces made of peanuts, gloves and baseballs.

At the podium, Davey Johnson thanked Frank Cashen for his help assembling the world champion ’86 Mets, because "you don’t usually say thanks in the heat of battle Maybe if I said it sooner, you probably wouldn’t have fired me."

Cashen, wearing his signature bow tie, received a standing ovation from the hundreds assembled in the New York Hilton ballroom.

"You gotta believe we’ll find a cure for this hideous disease - this insideous disease," said Cashen.

Among the celebrities in the crowd were tennis great and cable TV talk-show host John McEnroe; former New York Met and Yankee slugger Darryl Strawberry; legendary New York Met Rusty "Le Grand Orange" Staub; ’86 Mets hurler Ron Darling; former New York Mets second baseman and former Brooklyn Cyclones manager Tim Teufel; former Met and Yankee pitcher and former Brooklyn Cyclones pitching coach Bobby Ojeda; Brooklyn’s own Lee Mazzilli, manager of the Baltimore Orioles; New York Rangers hockey legend Rod Gilbert; former Field of Dreams honoree - and Mets and Yankees pitcher - David Cone; ’86 Met and former Cyclones manager Howard Johnson; former Yankee and Met catcher Rick Cerrone; last year’s Field of Dreams honoree and baseball hall of famer Gary Carter; "Gong Show" creator-host and author Chuck Barris; former Yankee and Met announcer Fran Healy; ’86 Mets shortstop Rafael Santana; original New York Met Ed Kranepool; ’86 Met pitcher Sid Fernandez; ’69 Met Art Shamsky; former Met manager and champion shortstop Buddy Harrelson; ’69 Mets third baseman Ed Charles; ’86 Mets centerfielder Mookie Wilson; and artist Leroy Neiman.

Although Hernandez’s commitment to the Cobble Hill Health Center stems from the loss of his mother after a nine-year struggle with Alzheimer’s, this year’s Field of Dreams gala prompted a happy announcement from Hernandez at the podium - his engagement to his girlfriend of three years, Kai Thompson. She told GO Brooklyn that a Valentine’s Day wedding on a beach in Florida is in the works.

While sipping apple martinis and cosmos from beneath mermaid ice sculptures hoisting baseballs, gala attendees bid on sports and entertainment memorabilia at the silent auction.

The items ranged from "an actual piece of [Derek Jeter’s] game-used jersey" framed with his rookie card, to Rusty Staub wines, to a large framed photo of James Gandolfini of HBO’s "The Sopranos" and film stills of Al Pacino in Brian De Palma’s "Scarface" - including the bubble bath scene (which Bobby Ojeda bid for).

Hernandez told GO Brooklyn that there’s no end in sight to his support of the Cobble Hill Health Center, so if you missed this year’s fete - wait ’til next year.

For more information about the Cobble Hill Health Center, located at 380 Henry St. at Congress Street, call (718) 855-6789.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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