What Playing Little League Baseball Taught Me as a Child With Cerebral Palsy
Life with cerebral palsy has dealt me my fair share of challenges over the past 35 years. Growing up in a small town, one of the key things I remember is not really having the opportunity to interact with kids outside of my own family. I also remember having countless doctor’s appointments, months upon months of rehabilitation, and lots of walkers and leg braces. Eventually, I was able to walk, run, and get around on my own, and when I did, I just wanted to be like any other kid. I especially wanted to play baseball. So like thousands of people around the country, my parents signed me up for Little League baseball.
I probably played baseball for about five years, and I can tell you that I wasn’t very good. My physical limitations sure had a lot to do with that. I struck out more than I hit, I fell down time after time, and I know for a fact that there were kids and adults alike who watched me play and didn’t think I belonged. More than once, I went home in tears and just wanted to quit. But I’m not here to tell you about the negative parts of my baseball experience. I want to talk about all the amazing memories and lessons I gained over those few years.
Being part of Little League changed my life. I got to be a “normal” kid. I was convinced I was going to be the next Ken Griffey Jr. — although at the time, I was disappointed that I never got to wear his infamous “24” on my jersey. I got to interact with kids I didn’t know. I learned to win and lose respectfully. Little League baseball taught me work ethic but most of all, it taught me to just have fun.
My best friend at the time was in the division above mine. He was a smaller kid like I was — but he was able to do everything I couldn’t. He even had his own nickname: “Wheels.” As a 10-to-12-year-old kid, that was the coolest thing ever. I looked up to him every time he stepped onto that field, and the nights when he would watch my games before his games started always felt different. Every kid deserves to have a friend and teammate like him at that age. He was not only a friend; he was also someone who pushed me to be better. He worked with me on technique, but more importantly, he instilled confidence in me by almost never letting me be picked last on the playground at school.
I never got to play on the same team as he did, and I stayed in the Minors division beyond the set age limit due to my physical limitations. Only 10 to 15 years later did I truly understand the positive impact I not only had on my friend but perhaps also my small town’s entire Little League program. I found out years later that the coaches in the division above mine had talked to their teams about me. They didn’t talk about how many home runs I hit or how many great plays I made, but they did talk about my sportsmanship, work ethic, and heart. So all those times I tried to quit, all those times people doubted me and I doubted myself, there were positive things happening in the background that I never knew about. The physical limitations my cerebral palsy caused failed to hold back the positive impact I had on a lot of people — some of whom were strangers to me.
I was never an All Star. I never won an MVP. I took a chance and I worked at baseball. I did the best I could every game. I got grass stains. I chased foul balls into the woods. I laughed. I cried. I won a championship in my final year of baseball — which will always be one of my most cherished memories.
You don’t have to be the best at everything, and odds are, most of you won’t be — regardless of whether you’re able-bodied like most kids or you have cerebral palsy like I do. So many kids these days watch sports on TV and want to be the next Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani just like I wanted to be the next Ken Griffey Jr. The reality of it is that the chances of making it to the highest level are very slim, but you can still work hard and strive for your goals, both big and small. Just remember to enjoy the journey. Enjoy the pizza and sunflower seeds from the snack shack, the grass stains, and all of the bumps and bruises along the way. These are the memories that will stand out. Stay who you are because you don’t have to be the best to make an impact. Hopefully, years down the road, you’ll have lots of great memories to share and stories to tell!
Getty image by LSO Photo.