For virtually the entire time he has been part of our family, Titus has watched Liam play baseball.
He watches his older brother, imitates his baseball moves, and cheers on the team. I think he’s the unofficial cheerleader on at least one team.
He has been waiting for his turn to play and when I told him a couple of months ago that I signed him up to play wheelchair baseball, thrilled was an understatement to describe his reaction. He was over the moon.
Titus plays for a league called the Junior Fightins’. They’re sponsored by the Fightin’ Phils, a minor league branch of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Fightin’ Phils are based in Reading, which is also where the wheelchair baseball league plays. It’s billed as “wheelchair baseball” but there are two things you need to know about that term.
- It’s open for any child or adult with special needs who want to play baseball. There was only one other person on the field in a wheelchair, but lots of people of all ages with physical disabilities, Down Syndrome, or other issues that would prevent them from playing in a standard rec league.
- We are working really hard in our house to eliminate the word “wheelchair” and just call it baseball. After all, we don’t call Liam’s game “biped baseball.” (Although that would actually be kind of cool. We should totally start that.) For Titus, this is just plain baseball.
The Junior Fightins’ have an incredible Dream League Field, which was constructed to accommodate people with all kinds of special needs. It’s just beautiful – all astroturf, dugouts big enough for wheelchairs, bases painted on so no one trips, etc. Big enough so that the adults that play can hit it pretty far, but small enough so smaller kids like Titus can still get a hit. It looked just like all the fields Titus has seen so far.
When we got there, he got his uniform and he was so excited to put it on.
We had bought Titus his own glove because he likes to play at home (and he’s a lefty so weren’t sure what supplies they had for him), but this facility provides helmets, bats, gloves – everything you need to play. They also make sure that each player has an adult helper to help him or her hit the ball, run the bases, make a play in the field – everything else these special people need to guarantee a great time.
But first, they paused for the national anthem, which made Titus’s night before he even got to play. He’s a big fan ever of “The Star Spangled Banner” since Micah had to learn it on the trumpet and played it at home. A lot. So Titus sings it. A lot.
Then it was time to bat. Titus’s team was up first and he was first for his team. He was so thrilled. I caught the hit on video. What you can barely catch a glimpse of at the beginning is him hitting his bat on the ground next to home plate, just like he’s seen his brother do so many times before. He had asked repeatedly before we got there if we were going to cheer for him when he hits just like we cheer for Liam. He was waiting for his chance to shine.
He had a helper push him around the bases because wheeling yourself on Astroturf can be really hard for a four-year-old kid. He insisted on having a thermos just like Liam, but I forgot it at home. Good thing I had a spare water bottle in the car so he could take a big drink after his big hit!
When it was his turn at the field, he decided he wanted to play first base so he did. Right on top of the bag.
This video is fantastic. On his second at bat, as his helper pushed him from second to third after another person hit, you can clearly tell, even by how far away I am, that he is telling her to round third and go home, not really something they do in this league. Again, he’s been watching the Bobcat signals!!
At the end of the game, this was the score.
But it didn’t matter. These players came for fun and they all had a great time. They shook hands before leaving the field,
and Titus gave one more tip of the hat to his fans.
Titus and three of his biggest fans after the game.
Grandma was there – why didn’t we get a picture?? – and she treated us all to ice cream afterwards to celebrate Titus’s first baseball game.
Sadly, three out of his four games so far this season have been rained out, so this is the only one he’s been able to play so far. He’s really disappointed about that, but is looking forward to the next time he gets to play, and is also talking a lot about playing basketball!
Here’s the thing you need to know about this league. It takes organizing. It requires a lot of volunteers. And it’s put together for kids who would never get to play but for its existence.
I can tell you that it was remarkable from beginning to end. I am so grateful for people who dreamed big enough to make this happen so people like Titus, who just happen to have different abilities, can still play America’s past time.
For parents of kids with special needs, it sometimes feels like there is always a battle you have to fight. Issues with medical care, issues with insurance, issues with school, issues with impact on your family – it can be relentless and it can be overwhelming. And for most, parenting their kids with special needs doesn’t end at 18 or 21 or even 41. This is a lifelong commitment to the daily care of your child.
For many parents, they’ve spent years hearing all about what their children cannot do, how they cannot keep up with their peers, how parents of special needs kids cannot have expectations like other parents have.
But then you get this one hour, sixty glorious minutes.
Sixt minutes when everyone is celebrated for who they are, not criticized for what they can’t do.
Sixty minutes where no one tells people with special needs that they cannot do something, but rather shows them everything they can do.
Sixty minutes when the parents get to watch and cheer and celebrate, like any other parent of any other kid who plays a sport.
Sixty minutes when parents can just bask in the incredible joy on their child’s face.
Sixty minutes when parents can forget about doctor appointments and IEPs and medical supplies and testing and struggles in school and physical limitations and let these amazing people be celebrated exactly as they are.
These baseball players were all about the thrill of the game. They played with palpable joy and enthusiasm. They cheered on their teammates and the team they were playing against. Everyone just wanted to have fun and see everyone else succeed. It was a beautiful night.
If you need joy (and who doesn’t these days), go see a Junior Fightins’ game. Or find a Dream League game near you. There are fields like this across the country. They need volunteers and they need fans. Don’t hesitate. You will be hard pressed to find people who are having more fun and experiencing more joy, and who can make you feel their joy too, just by being in their presence.