Tonight we went to a ValleyCats baseball game with Matthew and David's baseball league. Because of their disabilities, Matthew and David cannot play little league, they do not have the focus or ability to do so safely. However, their different needs has made it hard to find a league that would be inclusive of both of them.
As I have looked around over the years, I could find leagues for children with limited physical abilities, those would be great for David, but no league for a child like Matthew who really wants to "play baseball". He wants to have the rules enforced, he wants to hit the ball, run the bases and feel like he is playing a real game. However, due to his distractability and inattention, Matthew required what I could not find, a league with adult support, that kept everyone safe and focused, but where the kids had the fun of playing.
This year I found it......an amazing man named Jim Fitzgerald started a program called Sports are For Everyone, SAFE, (http://www.sportsareforeveryone.org/) in 1992. We arrived for our first baseball game on a Saturday morning in Clifton Park, NY and I was blown away. There were over 100 kids playing ball! There were kids who had been playing for years, kids who had never held a bat before. There were kids hitting off of tees, and kids hitting pitches. The Little League players in Clifton Park volunteered their time to help SAFE be a success. There was a Little League buddy for each SAFE child who needed 1:1 help, and then there were Little League kids helping the more experienced SAFE kids play a game of baseball.
Each Saturday for the past 2 months we went to baseball. Every Saturday I drove the boys 30 minutes for an hour of baseball. Each Saturday, I left my heart full, feeling happy and knowing that I had found what we needed for David, but most importantly for Matthew. He had a group of kids who he was hanging out with. He had a group of kids who loved sports and he was playing baseball!
On the last Saturday they announced that SAFE was invited to go to a Valley Cats baseball game and be on the field for the National Anthem- this was of course met with begging from Matthew that we HAD to get tickets, so I quickly agreed we would attend. All day today we watched the weather and I knew it would be a long night if we had to skip the game. Thankfully, the weather held out, and we met the other SAFE families at the ValleyCats game!
As we arrived at the game, Matthew immediately started asking, when can we eat? What food can we get? As I reminded him we were going to be there a long time and that we would eat, but it would be a while before we did that, he was getting frustrated. Luckily, there was a nice gentleman next to him, and Matthew quickly started chatting with him.
Looking at Matthew, there are no signs that he is a child with a disability. Talking to Matthew, you might get a sense that he is a little delayed, but the true intensity of his limitations is not always obvious. Matthew did his best to talk baseball with this gentleman, and each time Matthew got a little frustrated with me, as I told him we were waiting a little bit to eat, the gentleman seemed to instinctively distract Matthew. I couldn't tell if the man knew that Matthew was delayed, and I worried that the man was going to be frustrated with Matthew's incessant talking, but to be truly honest, my ears were enjoying the break from being Matthew's only audience.
Finally, as the game was drawing to a close, the man asked what the SAFE t-shirts were about, and one of the directors of the program filled him in about SAFE. The man leaned over to tell me that he would leave tonight having had the gift of time with Matthew.....that he would remember nothing of the game, but that he would remember his time with Matthew. The gentleman told me that he had just retired and was looking for somewhere to volunteer. He said that he loved coaching baseball for his own sons, and that he was looking for the right group to become involved with. As Matthew's mom, it is at times hard to remember the gift that Matthew is to people. His sense of humor, kindness, and gentle, engaging manner can be so warm to people who just meet Matthew. He is earnest in his caring for others, and he is truly curious about others. To know that tonight as I worried about him bothering this man, Matthew was having such a positive impact on a stranger, was exactly what I needed to hear.
To round out the evening, as the ValleyCats game ended, and one of the players was walking down the field, all of the kids were cheering and yelling for him, trying to get his attention and to get his autograph. For some reason, this player just kept on walking. The kids, being kids, just kept on yelling for him, trying desperately to get his attention for the ever desired autograph. Finally, as the player just walked by, Matthew announced, "well he must be death!, Matthew speak for "deaf"". The entire group of adults around us giggled, and I once again teared up, as I realized the bright spot that Matthew had brought to so many people's night out.
You never know who you will sit next do at a ball game, or whose life you will touch, but I can guarantee you one thing, if you take a second to talk to a stranger, you just might change their life, or at least you will get a little giggle!
- I am a single mom of three amazing boys! All three of my sons entered my family through adoption. All three of my boys have developmental disabilities. My oldest son, Matthew has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder. David, my middle son, has a genetic condition, he has a duplication on his 15th chromosome which leads to autism like symptoms, seizures and learning challenges. My youngest son, Jacob has learning disabilities. Each of my children bring unique challengs to our family and also bring their own personality and joys to our everyday life!