Baseball organization for people with autism looks to establish league in Yakima
An inclusive baseball organization is looking for players, coaches and volunteers in Yakima to establish a baseball league to people with autism and special needs.
Due to COVID-19, the league won’t start until spring of 2021 but Director Taylor Duncan for the Alternative Baseball Organization told KAPP-KVEW they can use the extra time to create the league.
“It takes quite a while to get a team together because of the niche demographic that we serve,” Duncan said, “So why not go ahead and get started today?”
The organization will wait for coaches and managers to be hired before deciding on where games and practices will be help. a contract will be signed and a local program will be established once those positions are filled.
The organization is only 4 years old but has quickly spread across the US after starting in the greater Atlanta, Georgia area. After getting recognized on national television through the TODAY show and ESPN Baseball, people across the country contacted Duncan about establishing more teams for people with autism.
“When I first started , it was more about raising awareness and acceptance for autism locally,” Duncan said, “But as time went on, we realized that just like where I grew up, there’s just such a shortage of services, especially for those who graduate out of high school, because there’s this age cap on eligibility for services. To make matters worse, for those like myself on a certain segment of the autism spectrum, we don’t have those opportunities to be able to participate in what may be out there because we score too high on a test.”
Duncan credits his mother’s help and guidance for much of his success.
“I’m grateful for all my teachers and mentors and coaches who helped me through the years gets where I am today. And the players who participate in our programs, the parents who bring the players to the practices. Volunteers, coaches, managers and even umpires who helps us out, we’re truly grateful for because without the support of really the entire country, we wouldn’t be where we’re at today.”
The Alternative Baseball Organization follows Major League Baseball rules including wooded bats, base stealing and dropped third strike. The only difference is the organization uses a larger, softer baseball than what is used in MLB.
In a statement, the organization is described as “a true typical team experience for others on the autism spectrum and special needs to help develop social skills for later in life.”
Clubs are set up in multiple US cities including in Greater Atlanta, Greater Charlotte, Greater San Antonio, Greater Huntsville, Chattanooga, Jersey City, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Upstate South Carolina and Macon. The organization was also recently commemorated as a Community Hero at an Atlanta Braves game.
“We want to make sure everyone has the same opportunity to play traditional baseball,” Duncan said, “The game of baseball gives everyone an equal opportunity to be able to contribute on a team setting, whether it’s hitting down a lineup of players or whether they’re in the field, everyone has an equal probability of being the one who makes the certain play and everyone pretty much gets their fair share of playing time. We’re able to really use this to reinforce lessons that they can take with them in life off the diamond as well.”
Duncan says playing baseball gives people with autism opportunities they would possibly not otherwise have.
“[They learn] how to work together as a team, they learn the team chemistry skills, whether it’s somebody who played years and years of competitive ball, but didn’t have the opportunity to continue playing or whether it’s those that are anxious about moving away from their usual daily routine and incorporating baseball for the first time as part of the routine and actually loving and enjoying the game for the first time.”
He said the bonds created among teammates is also incredibly strong due to their similar life experiences.
“I was often denied opportunities to play on rec teams growing up because when I was diagnosed myself I had a lot of developmental delays,” Duncan said, “My mother helped me through a lot of obstacles, but I faced perceptions and negative stigmas from coaches and peers of what one with autism can and cannot accomplish. I was often precluded from having those same opportunities. Basically, there were those that were only in it to win. I did have a coach that was in it for the fun of the game though that would teach us the lessons, basically through the experience of what it’s like to win together, what it’s like to lose together, how to get back up when you fall and stuff like that.”
Duncan said the organization is inclusive to people across the spectrum and with any type of disability or special need. The group does have an age requirement though: 15-years-old.
“Usually if you have developmental delays and really maturity-wise you’re behind, we’ve noticed that when they are younger, they’re not really developmentally ready for the experience yet,” Duncan said, “That’s why we moved it to 15. We did try down to 13, but now we had to move back to 15 because we just didn’t have much success in that age bracket. I mean, it was just such a wide range of basically a wide spectrum of maturity levels. What we’re setting out to do is provide more opportunities for those who are ready for that next step up toward the more competitive experience, but at the same time, have that experience really tailored to their individual skill levels and it’s really much more an instructional experience, so to speak. There’s a lot more practices than games.”
Duncan hopes players and anyone involved in the Alternative Baseball Organization will learn something about themselves, including that they aren’t limited in their achievements due to their condition or disability. Instead, they can reach further than they have before to accomplish their greatest goals. Duncan said some players have decided to start driving cars or change up their routines because of playing baseball.
“All because they’ve been given the support they need and they were told, yes, you are more than capable.”