By Mary O’KEEFE
On Sunday an example of why baseball is known as America’s pastime was presented at the Babe Herman Field in Glendale.
Coach Joe Fitzpatrick and his team, the Dodgers, took to the field to play their third game of the season. It would be difficult to find any player more excited than those on this Dodger team.
“The Jewel City Little League has a Challenger division for developmentally disabled players,” explained Fitzpatrick.
There are three sections of Challenger division including young, middle and older players. The ages range from 5 to 15 years old. The younger players learn the discipline of practice and baseball basics. The middle group will run through the flow of the game and the older kids play the game.
Fitzpatrick sends out invitations to local non-disabled little league teams to play against the Dodgers.
“We start with practices at the beginning of the season then scrimmages then work up to games because with the disabled players you really want to get them prepared. The game can be pretty hectic and you have to work with them so they are ready,” Fitzpatrick said.
The coach keeps them in line and the players concentrate on the game. Before the game he reviews his rules that include paying attention, signing the game ball at the end of the game and remembering to have fun.
Sanfilippo Construction team played against the Dodgers middle age group. Sanfilippo’s coach Bob Koach said his players had fun at Sunday’s game.
“Our kids learn that everyone has different [gifts],” Koach said. “They think a little more when they see someone with disabilities. The games are a good lesson on both sides.”
The love of baseball is something that bonds all the teams regardless of what division they are in.
“I talked to one of the parents whose son was in a wheelchair. He told me this is the only time his son talks. [The son] knows when baseball season is here and that weekend he will talk to his dad. When you hear that it is amazing,” Koach added.
The kids also take the games seriously. They have their game face on when they take the field and play as a solid team.
Michael Leon, a player in the older division, took the pitcher’s mound. He threw a few practice balls and then the opposing team stepped into the batter’s box.
Dodger Michael stared at the catcher’s mitt and threw right in the middle of the strike zone. The dad, who was acting catcher, threw the ball back to Michael who, without showing any signs of stress, turned to strike the player out.
Baseball is the sport that binds these players. Christopher Mikuni has been playing on the Dodgers for five years.
“This is a great program, great programming and the kids have a lot of fun,” said Darryl Mikuni, Christopher’s father. “In the past they thought kids with special needs couldn’t play [many sports]. They thought they might get hurt but here with the right kind of help, assistance and support they can participate and have fun.”
He added he liked the fact that these kids are doing something that most people thought they couldn’t do.
“Baseball is universal. It so funny how kids of all abilities love taking a bat and hitting a ball or playing catch.”