A cloudless blue sky filled with optimism and possibility presided over the Opening Day celebration for the League of Dreams; a baseball team for differently-abled kids ages 5-18. Uniforms were issued, the anthem was played, and the coach addressed his players with great enthusiasm. As each batter stepped up to the plate, their name was announced over the loudspeaker and the crowd went wild.
Though there had been a similarly cloudless sky last week, when we'd attended our first practice, I'd been too busy spinning in a tempest of conflicting emotions (a typical state for me where Simon is concerned) to fully appreciate it. I'd been grateful that the team existed, and that Simon would be able to participate in such a "typical" five-year-old pastime -- T-ball! However, piggybacking my gratitude, I felt the familiar sadness accompanying the recognition that Simon isn't a typical kid, and this isn't a typical team.
Under what may have been a frighteningly cheerful facade (I may have been grimacing more than smiling), I'd been harboring the secret fear that Simon wouldn't, or couldn't, participate. That he'd resist the structure of the game and the instruction of the coaches -- essentially, I was terrified that he'd be unable to handle a team created with the sole intent of including children like him. "Then," I asked myself, "what will you do?"
As I feared, Simon melted down multiple times. He had trouble catching, and throwing, and holding the bat. He couldn't keep a glove on his left hand. He'd run away, lost interest (and the ability to stand upright), refused to share the ball, and he'd cried for mommy. A lot. But, instead of sitting him out, giving up on him, ignoring him, or simply indulging him by letting him do his own thing, the coaches kept trying. And they were largely successful. Simon caught and threw a few times, hit a ball from a T, and ran all the way around the bases (actually, he kept running... we had to catch him).
We discovered that, because the League didn't give up on Simon, Simon didn't give up on playing. This week, only his second time on the field, he did so much better. Instead of tears, he started to say "I did it!". Instead of constantly looking for mommy, he began to look for high-fives.
League of Dreams is not a typical team, because none of the people participating are typical. The children playing have a wider array of challenges than I could begin to describe. The parents have been/are going through circumstances most moms and dads can't begin to imagine, yet they still stand, and cheer, and walk, or carry, or wheel, their kids around the bases. Though I am sure that (in addition to a love of baseball) many of the coaches have personal experience with a special needs individual, and therefore added insight into their -- our -- needs, they are also some of the most patient and positive people I have ever met; donating their free time to improve the quality of life for people the rest of society mostly tries to ignore.
So, consider this an invitation. If you feel it is rare to encounter pure joy, join us for a game. Every single time a player crossed home (and everyone hit runs), there was elation -- in the face of the player and the cheers of the crowd. If you doubt that true acceptance can ever be found, come to a game. I personally got more high-fives, hugs, kisses, and big broad smiles from complete strangers, than I could keep track of. To quote my Dad (who even joined us on the field), it was the best ball game he'd been to in over 40 years.
Myself, I found that before the end of the first inning any sadness I held from being other-than-typical vanished, and my heart finally reflected the sky. There was no room for clouds, we had ball to play.