When you’ve learned to believe in yourself, there’s no telling how good a player you can be. That’s because you have the mental edge.
– Rod Carew
One of the many beautiful things I love about Baseball is that the game is for everybody; every size, shape, gender, and color can come together on a field and compete. But, for many people in our society they don’t feel the acceptance that comes from being on a team. I know that I have been guilty of that way of thinking, even with no cruel intentions meant. I wasn’t someone that would tease or mock the person, but I didn’t stop it either. I didn’t fully realize what my actions, and inactions, did until I watched the Yankees vs Angels game last Sunday. The network featured a piece on people with autism and other developmental disorders who just want to play the game that we all share. The feeling I get when I step onto the field with my friends is the same feeling they rightfully deserve to feel as well. When the topic came up I never thought too much about it, I just wished that I could fix their ailments so that they could be normal like me (What is normal anyway?) and play because they had to be like me to be able to play well enough. I was so focused on what they couldn’t do as opposed to what they could that I was blind to the human being wanting to play the game just like me, for fun.
We tend to look at sports and see a competition for the best, playoffs and tournaments are designed to answer that question of “who was best this year”? Major League Baseball is great entertainment and it is a representation of the best players in the world competing against one another to earn that title of “The Best”. But there is still one major factor that is often over looked in the game, and that is fun. Fun. Simple word, simple explanation. Why did you start to play little league, besides your parents signing you up? Why did you stick with it in high school? Why do I go out to the park on Sundays with a bunch of “old guys past their primes”? Because it’s fun. Bryce Harper said he wanted to bring back the fun in baseball because it got too much like work. At the heart of it, “Fun” is what brought us to the game and what keeps us playing. Fun is what gets us through an 0-4 at the plate day and is what makes a hit seem like winning the lottery.
Throughout history we can look back and pinpoint highlights and low places. We can see when Babe Ruth called his shot and then mashed it to that spot as a highlight. We can also see the negro leagues as a low place. Its not about placing blame and resigning to fate to fix the problem, we must learn from history. It wasn’t long ago that people could not play the game regardless of talent based solely on the color of their skin. Jackie Robinson helped break through and blazed a path many others have traveled and now the game has a rich inclusive atmosphere that invites everyone out to the ball park. Imagine all how different the game would be today had we not had those restrictions in place for so long? There is still a lot of work to do, but it is a lot better than where we started. Sports is often a reflection upon society and how they treat others within the society. As the push for inclusion, regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, and disabilities continues to make it to the forefront of our politics and policies it also mirrors that progress or regression in the game that we love.
We know that baseball has had players with disadvantages before. Jackie Robinson was the first African-American man to play in the Major Leagues, Jim Abbot pitched 10 years with no right hand, George Springer has overcome Stuttering to become a lethal weapon in the Astros lineup, and as of April 2018 Tarik El-Abour was signed to a minor league contract with the Kansas City Royals and is believed to be the first player with autism to play in the minors. It is an incredible story that made me wish that there were more leagues around so that more people can with disabilities could experience what it feels like to play with friends. It was a pleasant surprise to me when I started to write this article and the commissioner of my recreational league emailed me about a league for people with autism in our area. As awesome as it is to have found out that there was a league, it also needs “Buddies” to help the players with some fundamentals on the field, and there is no one better to fill that void than you. If you can’t help on the field, then you can bring the family out and watch a game and cheer on these players. Who knows maybe it will make their day? Or maybe it will make yours. Either way EACH AND EVERYONE of us deserves to Play Ball.