I have been touched by a baseball game my son was part of this past weekend. My wife and I have been trying to help our son find a way to be involved and learn new skills, have fun and make a friend or 2. I did not know what to expect when enrolling our son in the Challenger League in East Meadow, New York. I was a bit nervous as my son has never played an organized game of baseball before. I have had a few catches with him in the back yard but it was not something he really showed interest in.
I seemed to be more excited the day of his very first game then he was and I wanted to make sure we got to the ball field early so we could practice and I could help him start to develop the proper skills in catching and throwing. Hitting I would need to focus on later and obviously would need one of the coaches to help him as well.
When I was a kid the game of baseball was something I had a passion for. I always had an appreciation for the game and I was hoping my son would also find his passion but it seems he needs a little encouragement and our involvement and guidance. I was proud to see my son in his uniform and felt that he would at the very least find some fun and enjoyment from his experience playing. I was not sure what to expect but I felt it was well worth the effort to get him there and playing despite his reluctance. I did not want to force him to play but I know how he is searching to make friends and I felt this certainly was an opportunity for him to at least connect hopefully with some of the kids.
The complex where the baseball fields and the field house are located is very impressive. There are four baseball fields and they always are occupied during the spring, summer and fall seasons. As we took the field to start having a catch I noticed parents and their children starting to gather on the field each doing pretty much the same thing I was doing with my son. I want to instill in my son confidence and a belief that he can learn and develop the skills required in baseball and if he can master these skills he most certainly can master the skills he will need in other areas and especially in life. The game of baseball is one of the most common games played by so many kids and I always took it for granted not realizing that the game would have an even bigger meaning for the kids I would see today playing including my son.
My son has Asperger’s and he certainly has his challenges and to this point we have been trying to find a sport or activity where our son would benefit from participating. When I saw the kids gathering at the field I was touched very deeply and emotionally as I saw kids just like my son who were autistic and I saw kids with a diversity of challenges. I saw kids in wheel chairs, I saw kids with cerebral palsy, I saw kids with downs syndrome, I saw kids with leg braces, I saw kids of all sizes, some very tall and over weight and some very small and petite. I saw boys, I saw girls and I saw young kids who wanted to just play and have fun.
I literally had tears in my eyes seeing how these kids had such challenges yet just wanted to be involved in a game of baseball. For me this game started to take on a more important meaning then what I remembered when I was a kid playing little league baseball. It seemed to me these kids normally would be passed up and would never have such an opportunity but this league was so very different because this league actually encouraged these kid to come and play. It was a very heart warming experience and I was so delighted that my son was a part of it.
As the coaches started to ready the field for play they had the buddies assigned to each kid participating and these buddies were kids who have had experience playing the game and had excellent playing skills and were very involved in providing support and encouragement. My son had a buddy paired off with him and he introduced himself to both my son and I. I was impressed with his maturity and his level of skill. He started to have a catch with my son explaining to him how to properly position himself and his glove when catching. I was happy that my son had this one on one interaction and I was no longer worried. I was very delighted and saw what sets this league apart from the traditional leagues. This league is devoted to special needs children and the coaches are actively involved in the game and in making sure each and every kid gets up to hit and are positioned in the field. The coaches pitch the ball in a way that helps enable these kids to hit and run the bases. The game is not about competition. It is about these kids learning and developing skills and having fun and being encouraged every step of the way by their buddies and all the coaches, staff and parents.
I saw kids come up to bat who seemed to struggle at the plate but the emphasis was that each kid get a chance to hit the ball and to get on base. I was excited when my son got up to bat. He had a good stance and he managed to hit the ball after a few swings and I was so proud of him as I heard all the coaches and his buddy and all the parents cheering. It was an incredible experience and I was so happy we signed our son up for this league. The founder of the league is very committed and wants to see all these children have fun and succeed. It is such a wonderful opportunity for these kids and I was inspired so much that I wanted to share this with all of you.
The game was a three inning game and it took on a dimension different from what I was used to but I understood why and I was very grateful because these kids need encouragement and nurturing and competition is not what these games are about.
I was so happy for Matty and I will be there with him next week looking forward to the next scheduled game. After the game I shook the hands of some of the coaches and my son’s buddy offering my thanks and appreciation and my son and I then went to McDonald’s for lunch.
What I very much enjoyed about this game was seeing the smiles on all these kids faces including my son’s. These kids all have their own challenges but for those three innings of organized play they had a chance to be kids just like any other and they were all having fun and learning something very valuable. It was very touching and i was emotionally impacted by the wonderful experience and my son got to play his very first game with such wonderful kids. It really made our day.
Edward D. Iannielli III