Friends play poker in remembering Lidle

Friends play poker to remember Lidle

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Chris Welch was crowned the champion after nine hours of calling, bluffing and raking in chips at the inaugural Cory Lidle Memorial Poker Tournament on Sunday at Hollywood Park Casino, but the real winner was the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Thanks to the hard work and generosity of many friends of Lidle, who pitched for the Mets, Devil Rays, A's, Blue Jays, Reds, Phillies and Yankees before dying at age 34 when his small airplane crashed into a Manhatttan apartment building last October, the pre-event goal of generating at least $50,000 for Make-A-Wish was accomplished. And then some.

According to Lou Birdt, one of the organizers, the Cory Lidle Foundation will soon present the charity with a check for $58,700 in Lidle's name.

"To call it a success would be an understatement," Birdt said. "Not only did we surpass our financial goals, but the Lidle family got to see -- again -- just how important Cory was to so many people. The turnout was phenomenal, the support was phenomenal, everyone had a great time, and the family was extremely happy with the way everything went.

"It was really satisfying for everyone involved."

Particularly Welch, a friend of former Lidle teammate Mike Lieberthal. In outlasting Lidle family friend Lee Jett, who works for MLB Security and was of great assistance to Lidle's widow, Melanie, in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, Welch turned his $205 entry fee into a $12,560 payday. Jett finished second among the 270 players and won $6,535.

But winning at cards was hardly the focus Sunday. Honoring Lidle's memory by continuing the tradition he established with the Cory Lidle Celebrity Poker Tournament in 2005 was the order of the day.

A picture of Lidle in pinstripes, delivering a pitch at Yankee Stadium, greeted participants at the registration table, and the list of contributors to the memorabilia raffle/auction underscored the affection that Lidle earned from teammates during his nine-year career.

Reigning National League MVP Ryan Howard and three-time NL All-Star Jimmy Rollins, both of whom played with Lidle in Philly, chipped in with an autographed bat and ball for the raffle. So did Jason Giambi, who played with Lidle in high school and with the Yankees, and Giambi also provided a game jersey for the auction, as did Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

A ball signed by 2005 World Series MVP Jermaine Dye, who played with Lidle in Oakland, a pair of boxing gloves signed by boxing legend Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins, and an Alabama football helmet signed by NFL legend Ken Stabler were among the many other items raffled off.

The Giambi and A-Rod jerseys each fetched $450, but it was a pair of Super Bowl XLI-related items that generated the most intense bidding. An autographed game jersey donated by Colts quarterback Peyton Manning went for $900, and a Chicago Bears helmet signed by members of the reigning NFC champions brought $2,600.

"The response we got from athletes willing to help out was fantastic," Birdt said. "And we can't thank the sponsors enough."

Ultimate Blackjack Tour ( was the title sponsor, hosting the 10-person final table. Precision Hotel Interiors, Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf,, the Phillies organization, the Dodgers' Dream Foundation, Bluff Magazine, The Wasserman Foundation and Ultimate Gear also were among the sponsors.

Barry Zito, who won the 2002 American League Cy Young Award while playing with Lidle in Oakland, was among the celebrities on hand for the event, joined by Lieberthal, Wolf, Hollywood director John Landis, and poker greats Freddy Deeb, Annie Duke and Russ Hamilton.

Zito and his mother, Roberta, and sister, Sally, played at the table Zito sponsored in the name of his own charity, "Strikeouts For Troops." The new Giants ace also donated a signed ball and a signed pair of game-worn spikes from his days with the A's for the auction.

"I know next to nothing about poker, but there's no way I was going to miss this," said Zito, who was eliminated after about two hours and several "re-buys" to replenish his dwindling stack of chips. "It's not really about poker, anyway. It's about showing Lidle and his family and their cause."

Lidle's twin brother, Kevin, also played, decked out in one of his late brother's Yankees jerseys. That was one of several Lidle jerseys in the crowd of players, who were treated to a buffet lunch before Melanie Lidle opened the tournament by telling the 27 dealers to "Shuffle and deal!"

"It was just a great day all the way around," Birdt said. "A lot of the sponsors and players said they enjoyed it so much that they hope we do it again."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.