Baseball is about friendships, bonds and fun, and that's what a nonprofit wants to bring to some in our community who might not be able to play right now.
The Alternative Baseball Organization is a 501(c)(3) authentic baseball experience for teens 15 and older and adults with autism and other disabilities to gain social and physical skills for success in life on and off the diamond. The organization is looking for volunteers with hopes of starting a team in Concord and Kannapolis.
The ABO started in January 2016 with one team in Powder Springs, Georgia, and has since expanded to more than 60 sites, including organizations in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Gastonia, Mount Airy and Fayetteville.
Taylor Duncan started the organization when he was 20 years old with just seven players a little more than 10 miles from his hometown of Dallas, Georgia. He is autistic, and when he was younger, he had speech and anxiety problems as well as other issues that came with having autism.
He never had this type of opportunity when he was younger, and he has seen firsthand how a positive experience such as this can be helpful for others who had the same difficulties he did.
“We accept them for who they are, and encourage them to be the best they can be, and we instill confidence in them and give them reasons for them to fulfill dreams in life on and off the baseball diamond,” Duncan said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We know it’s important to have those opportunities so that they can be able to form those friendships with others just like themselves and create those bonds together, where we win together, we lose together, we get back up from failure together, and we make great plays together.
“Way beyond those wins, losses and statistics can show, those friendships and bonds go with them for the rest of their lives.”
When Duncan was younger, he loved baseball. He loved to watch the game and to play it, and he was given the opportunity by a coach to learn and grow.
But then another coach came along and told his mother he couldn’t play due to a high risk of injury. His chance to get that experience and build those friendships was taken away from him. He doesn’t want others to miss out on that opportunity.
“Thanks to my mother, my teachers, mentors and coaches who have helped me get to where I am today, I am here on today on the TEDx Stage,” he said at a TEDx Talk he gave in April 2019. “I am here today with the goal to inspire, to raise awareness and acceptance for autism and other special needs through America’s pastime of baseball.”
Duncan mentioned another goal during his TEDx Talk. He wanted his organization to go international. He is on the cusp of accomplishing that, as he has garnered interest in Mexico, Japan and South Korea. He was primed to start a team in Canada before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
But he has seen great success on the East Coast, with the teams in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Currently, he is looking for a manager to head a team in Cabarrus County. He also will need volunteers to help coach as well as players. Those people will have the chance to travel across the state and play against other teams using the normal rules of professional baseball.
Teams use wooden bats, they steal bases and even incorporate the “dropped third strike rule.” The only real difference is they use a bigger baseball.
Anyone interested in joining the league as a player or volunteer can go to alternativebaseball.org for more information. The organization also will be accepting donations of money and personal equipment. It is a nonprofit, so it will always take help if someone is willing to give it.
Alternative Baseball has been featured on "Baseball Tonight," "The Today Show" as well as numerous other media programs and outlets across the country. It has grown so successful that it even started a game last year in which several players from across the nation got the opportunity to play a nine-inning game against professional baseball players.
It’s an opportunity very few people have ever gotten, and it all started with one man and seven players in the 15,000-person town of Powder Springs, Georgia.
When Duncan was told by a coach that he couldn’t play, it was heartbreaking. He wanted to prevent that heartbreak for others, and Alternative Baseball has become a gateway for many to find that love of the sport again.
“I had kind of lost the love for the game,” said Nick Szczybor, an Alternative Baseball player in a 2018 piece by ESPN. “And Taylor’s helped me bring that love back.”
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