Alternative Baseball hits a home run for special needs players

By COLBY DENTON
Posted 7/7/19

Since baseball is America’s national pastime, shouldn’t everyone be allowed to play? That is not always the case for those with disabilities, and to address this issue, Alternative Baseball, the …

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Alternative Baseball hits a home run for special needs players

Posted

Since baseball is America’s national pastime, shouldn’t everyone be allowed to play?

That is not always the case for those with disabilities, and to address this issue, Alternative Baseball, the organization devoted to giving all players an authentic experience, is opening up new clubs in Chattanooga and Cleveland.

Alternative Baseball, which is based is Atlanta, provides an alternate experience for teens and adults with autism and other special needs who  want to get out onto the field.

The organization was started by Taylor Duncan, who now serves as its commissioner/director. Duncan himself has autism, and had numerous speech and anxiety issues when he was a boy.

The 23-year-old experienced stigma from classmates and coaches who didn’t believe someone with disabilities could play effectively on a team.

He explained the program provides social and physical skills for life on and off the diamond, something which was absent when he played sports himself.

“When I had a good coach, I really learned what statistics can never show. I became so much more confidant as a person, and enjoyed the game so much I wanted to continue playing,” Duncan said.

Once a new coach came on board, however, Duncan was benched and refused the opportunity to play. The new coach didn’t believe Duncan would be effective enough as a player to help the team win games.

Wanting to stop the suppression of those with disabilities, Duncan founded Alternative Baseball in January 2016.

“I told my mother if I was going to play sports again, I needed to coach my own team. Being nice to people isn’t that hard,” he said.

Although he didn’t know many people with disabilities interested in the sport, Duncan took to the Internet, and quickly found a team made up of players from all over the country and some from Canada.

Following this tournament, he got the idea to fully pursue an organization dedicated to those with disabilities, and Alternative Baseball was formed.

Players can be any age above 15 years old,. Duncan said this is because it’s around this age that services for the disabled start to shrink away. Age is certainly no barrier in Alternative Baseball,  as one player is in his 60s.

The Cleveland and Chattanooga clubs are looking for new players and volunteers. Players can be of all experience levels, and to ensure equality, the teams are co-ed.

“We take them from where they need to start, whether they need a ball pitched to them slow, underhanded or hit off the tee. We help them develop from where they’re at,” Duncan added.

The program follows Major League rules, including the use of wooden bats, base stealing, dropped third strike, etc. In addition to Cleveland, the group is setting up clubs in the greater Atlanta area, Chattanooga, Jersey City, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Ormond Beach, Chattahoochee Valley, upstate South Carolina and greater West Palm Beach.

The organization was recently commemorated as a Community Hero at an Atlanta Braves game.  Duncan was recognized with the J.B. Hawkins Humanitarian Award by the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon at its induction ceremony this year.

Duncan said the presence of an Alternative Baseball club in Cleveland will provide an excellent opportunity for those with special needs to play baseball in a fun, normal way they might not have the opportunity to play under normal circumstances.

He added some players, once they’ve been given the chance to play on a real team, feel inspired and even go out to find jobs.

“There’s gonna be highs and lows in our lives, and Alternative Baseball teaches them how to deal with those experiences in the best ways possible,” Duncan said.

Although the stigma certainly still exists for those with disabilities, Duncan believes educating the public and spreading awareness of everyone’s abilities and worth is the most important aspect of Alternative Baseball. He’s been seeing results in this area since starting the organization.

An All-Star game is planned each November, with players who have attended 70% or more of games getting to play against professional baseball players in a real 9-inning game.

The group is also planning to hold its first national game on Sept. 14, in Marietta, Georgia, where there will be players from multiple states playing against a team of former major league players.

“We hope that through this game, we’ll grab the attention of people and garner community support to bring Alternative Baseball to their areas as well,” Duncan said.

Donations are always accepted, and you can donate on Alternative Baseball’s website at https://www.alternativebaseball.org/.

For more information, check out the organization’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The latter two can be found under @abobaseball and @alternativebaseball, respectively. Duncan can be reached at 770-313-1762.

 

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