Saturday, July 15, 2006

Amigo plays baseball

It’s a typical summer evening, and we're headed to a Little League baseball game. But this one isn’t typical Little League; it’s a Challenger League game, and all of the players have disabilities.

Disabilities range from vision or hearing impairments to cognitive disabilities (such as Down’s syndrome) to children in wheelchairs for a variety of reasons. Some can walk but not run. Some can throw a ball but not catch it. Some can hit a slowly pitched ball, and some need to use a tee. A few need their parents to help them bat because their coordination and muscle tone is very weak. Somehow, some way, each child on these two teams will hit the ball and round the bases. No one worries about labels or diagnoses; they just play.

The understanding of the game varies, too. Some team members know the game well and follow Major League Baseball or the local Minor League team. A few compete in Special Olympics. Some have limited understanding, but gosh, they put a total effort into their play. One boy knows that the infielders often tag runners, but he doesn’t fully understand why or even know he needs to tag them with the ball, so he tags every runner that runs, walks, or wheels past him. "Tag, you're it!" One player will run after the ball whenever it comes near him – even if he’s up to bat. One girl likes to stop half way between bases to clap her hands and say, "Yay!" One thing is certain; No one strikes out. Every player “scores”. The last batter in each line-up gets a home run to make sure each child crosses home plate. And yes, the crowd of parents, grandparents, and siblings, cheers wildly for every run.

A local sponsor made sure the path to the field was paved to accommodate wheelchairs. Both teams wear official Little League uniform shirts and caps because local sponsors know how important it is to be outfitted properly.

The rules of the game might be modified, but the sights and sounds are the same as any childhood baseball game. The crack of the bat, the running feet, the cheering from the field and the bleachers, the smell of sweat, the dusty shoes, are all there. And the grins -- the players are all grinning through the entire game. These kids love to play, and it shows.

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