Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 2 a.m.
We needed one out in our last Little League game of the season to beat the first-place team when the ball was hit in my direction at first base.
The ground ball seemed harmless, but it went under my glove and into right field. We ended up losing. I was one devastated fifth-grader.
I still see the pitcher from our team every now and then. We joke about my Bill Buckner moment.
That’s the beauty of Little League. It’s one part of childhood that, win or lose or tie, you never forget about participating in. You remember eating at McDonald’s after the game, playing catch with dad in the backyard and riding your bike to practice.
Thanks to one group of ballplayers, I was reacquainted with that special feeling Saturday.
I attended Challenger Little League Day at Silverado Ranch Park not knowing what to expect because I knew the children were limited with physical and mental disabilities.
Some compete in wheelchairs or use walkers. Others have Down syndrome or autism. The score isn’t kept, outs aren’t recorded and every player bats each inning.
Here’s the best part: Everyone left the park with a smile. And not just the players — the families, too.
Little League isn’t strictly for the players on the field. It’s also for parents to play catch with their children and to take pictures on game day. It’s for end-of-year pizza parties, trophies and being distracted in the outfield by the sounds of the ice cream truck.
“When the kids are in school, there are no intramural activities,” said Tom Taycher, the league’s president. “The (special-needs) kids would just sit in the dugout and watch the other kids play (if they played in another league).”
Taycher, a retired police officer, started the league 23 years ago because his special-needs son had no league to play in. It’s blossomed to include 85 players on seven teams, accommodating children ages 5 to 18 for a 14-week season.
Most have been in the league multiple years, being put on a team with the same players each season. They’ve become more than teammates.
“There is a camaraderie out here,” says Dawn Sabraw, whose son Keaton Mabry has cerebral palsy and has been in the league for more than 10 years. “It’s like a family when you come back after nine months (during the offseason). We just love it.”
Sabraw isn’t the lone person singing the league’s praises.
Taycher was honored in 2011 with the international Little League Challenger Award, receiving it at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., for his volunteer work. The following summer, he arranged for the Las Vegas league to travel to San Bernardino, Calif., to play a team from Mexico in what was believed to be the first international challenger game.
“That was a fun trip to be part of,” Taycher said.
Each player is accompanied in the outfield or while batting by a "buddy," who assists in everything from throwing and catching to making contact at bat. On this day, the buddy wasn’t a family member; it was children from Silverado Little League, which hosted the special-needs players for the second straight season.
The players pushed wheelchairs, assisted in the field and at bat, and even contributed to a few fielding mishaps. After the game, they ate together at postgame cookout.
Yes, Little League hasn’t changed. Everyone is living out those baseball dreams.