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A league of their own

Today’s item is about baseball and drooling.  We begin with this recent item by Jonathan Finer in the April 29 Washington Post:

BOSTON—When the technician examining an ultrasound image of her belly abruptly got up and walked out of the room during a prenatal appointment six years ago, Beth Allard told her husband she knew something was wrong.

Minutes later, an obstetrician at the Boston hospital confirmed the first-time mother’s fears, explaining that the pictures showed signs of Down syndrome.

Then, Allard recalled, the doctor began to describe what to expect.

“It could just be hanging off of you, drooling,” the physician said, contorting her face into a saggy, expressionless imitation of what a child might look like with the constellation of physical and mental symptoms that characterize the syndrome, which occurs in about one in 1,000 newborns.

“We felt hopeless and incredibly scared,” Allard, 42, said in an interview. “We didn’t know what this was or what to do. They told us we had a few weeks to decide whether to keep the baby.”

Such negative depictions of Down syndrome by health professionals who do prenatal screening are common, according to a survey of nearly 3,000 parents of children with the condition, published last month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. A majority reported that the obstetricians who gave them the diagnosis had focused on the hardships ahead and ignored “the positive potential of people with Down syndrome.”

“In many cases the doctors were insensitive or just plain rude,” said the author, Harvard medical student Brian G. Skotko, whose 24-year-old sister has Down syndrome.

Parents and advocates of people with Down syndrome hailed Skotko’s research and hope it will lead doctors to provide more comprehensive information about what life with the condition can be like.

Of course, doctors will have to read the damn thing.  They can’t just hang around hospitals drooling and making funny faces all day.

Just over thirty years ago, Charles and Emily Perl Kingsley were told that their baby Jason “would probably never sit up, stand, walk, talk, or have any meaningful thoughts whatsoever,” as Ms. Kingsley recalled many years later.  “He would never recognize us as his parents.  He would never be able to distinguish us from any other adults who were halfway nice to him.” Her husband responded with what is now a classic line among parents of kids with Down syndrome, “Okay, maybe my son will never grow up to be a brain surgeon.  Maybe all he’ll ever be is an obstetrician.”

Jason Kingsley grew up to be, among other things, the co-author of the 1994 book Count Us In: Growing Up with Down Syndrome.

In all fairness, not every child with Down syndrome will grow up to write a book, part of which contains a belated reply to his family’s obstetrician—and all of which, of course, constitutes a reply to his family’s obstetrician.  Some children with Down syndrome might, for example, merely throw out the first pitch of the 2005 State College Little League season:



Jamie was really looking forward to this, so we practiced his pitching all last week.  He’s got a great arm.  And here’s Jamie taking a little BP beforehand.  Yep, he throws right, bats left.  Don’t ask me—that’s his mother’s influence.


Jamie plays “Challenger League” baseball on Fridays from 6-7 pm in May and June.  The two teams in the Challenger League play two-inning games in which every player bats once each inning.  They are assisted each week by “buddies” from other Little League teams, who help them with fielding (thanks, buddies!).  Each batter takes first base, regardless of what happens in the field, and then the last batter in the inning effectively hits a grand slam, clearing the bases.  So all the kids bat; I pitch underhand to all of them except one, a serious ballplayer who can handle overhand pitching and hit it sharply into the outfield (Jamie’s almost there, but not quite—he can smack it, usually to the opposite field, but I haven’t thrown overhand to him yet).  All the kids get on base.  All the kids score.  There are no vicious parent-umpire fights; there are no umpires.  There are no parent-coach squabbles about whose kid should be playing where.  There are no wins or losses.  Imagine, no wins and losses.  Imagine no possessions!  I wonder if you can.

Of course, some people would say that Challenger League isn’t really Little League at all—just a feelgood exercise stripped of all the forms of competition and athletic achievement that make youth sports meaningful.  These would be the people who don’t see why it’s worth the effort to include kids with disabilities in all forms of social life, from school to play.

But Challenger League rules.  Those people drool.

Posted by on 05/09 at 07:13 AM
  1. You are obviously truly blessed and obviously, so is Jamie!  wink

    Posted by DK  on  05/09  at  08:58 AM
  2. Boy, do I like that Jamie kid of yours! He rules.

    Posted by Roxanne  on  05/09  at  09:16 AM
  3. And d’oh, Roxanne—I forgot to mention that as he ran off the field, he took off his cap and twirled it to acknowledge the applause.  He definitely rules.  (Thanks, DK!  Though Jamie’s also blessed to have a mother who’s lately been a better underhand pitcher than his father.)

    Posted by Michael  on  05/09  at  09:22 AM
  4. I want Jamie’s rookie card!

    Posted by mat  on  05/09  at  09:31 AM
  5. You’re going to stand that close to a powerful teenaged kid with an aluminum bat? You know how fast those balls fly off those things?

    Posted by norbizness  on  05/09  at  09:35 AM
  6. This is a beautiful story about smart people, one and all.  I would say you are describing THE Title IX issue of our time, except our current administration is trying to destroy that one.  Keep telling these stories and we’ll keep working to make sure everyone gets a chance to bat and that everyone wins.

    Posted by DocMara  on  05/09  at  09:36 AM
  7. No need for greed or hunger,
    A brotherhood of man,
    Imagine all the people
    Sharing all the world...

    Thanks for sharing that.  A great start to the week.

    Posted by The Heretik  on  05/09  at  09:37 AM
  8. You know how fast those balls fly off those things?

    Why, yes I do, in fact.  Keeps my reflexes in fighting trim.

    Posted by Michael  on  05/09  at  10:35 AM
  9. I know why Jamie bats left.  He knows that’s the quickest way to get to first.

    Posted by corndog  on  05/09  at  10:50 AM
  10. Like I said before in comment to your previous post on Jamie, he’s the luckiest son in the world for having a dad like you!

    Posted by  on  05/09  at  11:57 AM
  11. Michael, you left out the crucial information by which we could determine whether Challenger League is a “real league,” to wit: do fistfights break out between the parents?

    (And if they do, are there winners and losers? Or does everyone just congratulate each other on what a great fistfight it was?)

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  05/09  at  12:10 PM
  12. Folks should also know that there are equivalent adult leagues, which are always in need of “buddies,” since they try to keep the teams at a 50/50 split.  As many regular adult leagues become more and more hypercompetitive, this is a great way for the average player to keep up their game.

    Posted by  on  05/09  at  12:16 PM
  13. I thought I was the only one who threw right and batted left.

    Posted by Dale  on  05/09  at  12:30 PM
  14. Michael:

    A question that occasionally comes to me:

    Where’s my late brother’s first baseman’s mitt (the one broken in for a softball)?  Weren’t you the last possessor of it?

    Posted by david ross mcirvine  on  05/09  at  01:17 PM
  15. "I thought I was the only one who threw right and batted left.”

    You, Ted Williams, George Brett, and few others, Dale.  smile

    Posted by  on  05/09  at  01:24 PM
  16. David, I think Dan Collins was the last possessor of it.  I tend to avoid first basemen’s mitts myself.

    Posted by Michael  on  05/09  at  01:40 PM
  17. "I tend to avoid first basemen’s mitts myself.”

    Huh. I wonder why it has that weird sort of Lacanian object status for me, but it does.  I think it was a Tony Perez signature model.

    Here’s a flash from the new york past: my catcher’s mitt was a Jake Wood Signature model.  Remember Jake Wood? (And I kept my Dick McAuliffe signature model infielder’s glove well into the 80s).

    Posted by david ross mcirvine  on  05/09  at  02:07 PM
  18. Make that Jake GIBBS.  (Jake Wood was a tigers infielder, who played 2b before McAuliffe did, in the 60s.)

    Posted by david mcirvine  on  05/09  at  02:10 PM
  19. Thanks for posting this.

    Posted by  on  05/09  at  02:42 PM
  20. Actually, I remember Jake Wood better than I do Jake Gibbs.  Couldn’t hit a lick but when he did it was for a triple.

    I like those rules, Michael.  They’re alot better than the one that resulted in The Onion headline:  Special Olympics T-Ball Tee Throws Perfect Game.  A writer for the Onion has a brother whose first couple of cuts in such a game missed their mark.  His anxiety over his brother resulted in the above headline.  It cracks me up everytime I think of it - even as my eyes well up in tears.

    Posted by  on  05/09  at  02:46 PM
  21. When I was pregnant, the doctor told me that at my age (35) the chances of having a child with Down’s Syndrome were the same as the chances of miscarriage due to amniocentesis, so “the risks are the same either way” and I might as well get the test.  I pointed out to him that, no, one way you have a living baby and the other way you don’t.  He just shrugged, as though everyone who finds out their child has Down’s would choose to abort.  Education needed now!

    The Challenger League sounds awesome!  I wish all kids could find a league where enjoying the game is the point, rather than enjoying the competition.

    Posted by  on  05/09  at  03:55 PM
  22. I coached both my kids from tee ball on up.  Nothing exceeds the joy of telling a tee ball kid to swing through the ball on the tee.  Swing through the ball, you can do it. So I lean up close with my finger on top of the ball, because the kid says the ball will fall off if I don’t hold it there.  T
    he ball does stay on the tee with my finger on it.  The kid does swing through the ball on the tee.  The kid does hit my head with the bat.  The kid did do exactly what I told him.  What are you gonna do but laugh?  Laugh and press ice to your forehead.

    Oh, and . . . .Jake Gibbs, Horace Clark, and Ron Blomberg all say hello to David McIrvine.  Joe Pepitone was unavailable for comment.  Phil Linz says you can play his harmonica if he can get it back from Yogi Berra, so far as I know the only baseball character to ever have a cartoon character named after him.

    Yogi, who shared number eight with Dickey Bill is my favorite Yankee and philosopher. 
    Pick your favorite Yogi-ism:
    1 It’s deja vu all over again.
    2 It gets late early around here.
    3 Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.

    Posted by The Heretik  on  05/09  at  04:15 PM
  23. Micheal,
    I happened upon this last week:
    Apparantly, kids have an easier time hitting pitches that are faster than they do the slow lobs.  I tried it with my 6yo and 4yo this weekend and, anecdotally anyway, it seems to work.  It could be that my pitches are just much poorer when I attempt to throw underhand, but you may want to try it out.

    Also, I get to coach T-ball for my 6yo’s team at the end of this month.  This has nothing to do with anything, I’m just excited about it.

    Posted by JamisonK  on  05/09  at  04:43 PM
  24. Way to go, Jamie! Adding his contribution to the Berube/Lyon family tradition of prompting people to think a little more clearly about this complex world we all share.

    Posted by  on  05/09  at  04:49 PM
  25. "Yogi Berra, so far as I know the only baseball character to ever have a cartoon character named after him.”

    My mother taught me never to leave a baseball game early, but when Yogi came up against the Tiges with someone on base in extra innings, she told us all to get up and leave Tiger Stadium. Right she was, in one sense: Yogi got lots of clutch hits late in games especially, and he used to beat the Tigers like a gong.

    Though I saw Whitey pitch and Mickey and Yogi hit,
    I’ll never forget Roy White, who was quite good, and
    goes back to 1966 or so. I think he was the ALCS MVP in 1978.

    Maybe we could bring back Michael Burke as the owner of the Yankees?

    Posted by david ross mcirvine  on  05/09  at  04:49 PM
  26. Great post, great kid!

    Posted by yankee transplant  on  05/09  at  06:03 PM
  27. Jamison beat me to it.  I saw an article today which probably discusses the same study: http://tinyurl.com/9sjuq

    I was trying to extrapolate to major league hitters and knuckleballers.

    Posted by Linkmeister  on  05/09  at  06:58 PM
  28. Excellent story, nice pics.  Congrats to Jaimie on getting to throw out the first pitch.  smile

    Posted by bitchphd  on  05/09  at  07:03 PM
  29. Yes, Jamie both rocks and rules. Ditto his Dad.\

    Now Michael, about this “Challenger League,” don’t you worry about what Christina Hoff Summers and Sally Satel might have to say about it? What’s this everyone gets a chance to bat? Shouldn’t they be earning the right to bat? “No?” And “No?” Right.

    I don’t even have the energy to waste any irony on them or their new book. But I happened to catch a bit of their act on C-Span; same old, same old; from a slice of a kernel of truth, overblown generalizations and a compendium of idiotic anecdotes, a good number of which I doubt are real. Who in their right mind, other than scholars of the AEI, could be bothered with mounting a defense of dodge ball as a crucial contribution to the American character? Anyway, thanks for the lovely post, and in particular the description of Challenger League; it took that awful stale taste out of my mouth.

    Posted by Leah A  on  05/09  at  07:59 PM
  30. Leah, are you sure Sommers and Satel weren’t mounting a defense of the film Dodge Ball as a crucial contribution to the American character?  That would seem to make just as much sense.  Either way, I’m willing to bet that Christina H. S. spent most of that C-Span interview just hanging out and drooling.

    Posted by Michael  on  05/09  at  09:24 PM
  31. What about cheerleaders? are there any of those?  This could be a fun way to spend an afternoon while still in the post-finals resting period!

    Posted by  on  05/09  at  09:44 PM
  32. You’re blessed. So is your son.

    What about the 90% who aren’t?

    Posted by  on  05/10  at  12:44 AM
  33. Great post and pictures. Very inspirational

    Posted by jr  on  05/10  at  03:31 AM
  34. My nephews’ little league team actually plays games in this style (everyone bats every inning, no one keeps score).  Very encouraging to see an activity that’s meant to be fun actually run in a manner that’s inclusive of everyone who wants to participate.  Would be nice if more adults could clue in to what makes participating in sports meaningful to the kids, instead of worrying about what makes it meaningful to the parents.

    On a side note, (since we’re sharing) my very first glove was the Vida Blue signature model, no doubt heavily discounted due to the cocaine conviction.  <SIGH> Oh well, might as well learn to be cynical at a young age, eh?

    Posted by Marita  on  05/10  at  12:00 PM
  35. Cheerleaders are very welcome, Sarah.  He’d be thrilled to see you.  And JamisonK and Linkmeister, thanks for the physics tips.  I’ll try ‘em out this week.  Marita, just last year I lost the best glove I ever owned (I play third these days—don’t have the range for SS anymore):  a Jose Canseco model.  I kid you not.  I kept waiting for it to bulk up and make balls bounce off my head, but it never happened.

    Posted by Michael  on  05/10  at  12:22 PM
  36. Hello Michael:

    Since this might upset you and likely some readers I should start with some praise! grin! I very much enjoy your thoughtful comments. I will continue reading no matter how hard I get smacked down here. wink!

    Ok, now, I am wondering if you feel that if a couple informs themselves “resonably” and they decide to not have a child with Downs would you in some way look down on them? What about a child with brown hair? Where is the line? IS there a line? Certainly this is not easy so any comments even preliminary would be welcome.

    (Note, I do believe I got the point of the post which is that if one’s info is coming from doctors that might not be enough to be considered “reasonably” informed. I certainly agree with that. But that is not the example I mean to give above.)



    Posted by  on  05/10  at  01:43 PM
  37. Posted by Michael  on  05/10  at  02:05 PM
  38. Just over thirty years ago, Charles and Emily Perl Kingsley were told that their baby Jason “would probably never sit up, stand, walk, talk, or have any meaningful thoughts whatsoever,” as Ms. Kingsley recalled many years later.  “He would never recognize us as his parents.  He would never be able to distinguish us from any other adults who were halfway nice to him.”

    Wow, this sounds eerily like what we were told about our son less than 8 years ago (not Downs, but severe anoxia at birth).  Thank God we had a couple of doctors who encouraged us to get him into physical therapy and to work to stimulate his vision (he was diagnosed as cortically blind) and hearing (diagnosed as “profoundly hard of hearing").  Today at 7-1/2 he’s walking, talking feeding himself, partially dressing himself, can write his name, recognizes all the letters of the alphabet, and can count to 40.  He can work the VCR by himself, can bat at t-ball like nobody’s business, dribbles a soccer ball pretty well, and earlier this year took some adaptive ski lessons and was able to ski on his own down the bunny slope.  Although he’s still functioning cognitively well below his age, he is a very happy and loving child who has bonded with his family and who enjoys life.  It’s great to know there are activities out there like Challenger League and Special Olympics.  Thanks for sharing this.

    Posted by  on  05/10  at  04:36 PM
  39. Nothing about an ultrasound or an amniocentesis will detect cerebral palsy or autism—or acquired illnesses, or future auto accidents.  All the screening in the world won’t give us a world without disability.

    Yes, exactly.  All of our prenatal screenings came back “perfect”, yet right around my due date something went horribly wrong in utero and my son stopped getting enough oxygen through the placenta.  I’ve come to think that screenings can give parents a false sense of security, and that even though statistically these issues are rare, that “shit happens” and parents are rarely prepared.  I’m not arguing against screenings, but they do have limitations.

    Posted by  on  05/10  at  04:48 PM
  40. I had that Vida Blue glove. That glove was great. I thought he was had up for the longest time.

    Posted by  on  05/10  at  09:35 PM
  41. My question would be, who the fuck cares if it’s not *really* Little League? As long as the kids enjoy it, why worry about purity in labeling?

    Besides, *real* Little League can be a truly soul-destroying experience for a kid. Trust me, I got stories . . .

    Posted by  on  05/11  at  12:12 PM
  42. I know why Jamie bats left.  He knows that’s the quickest way to get to first. smile

    Posted by Sportswear  on  11/07  at  07:57 AM
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    Posted by Konrad Kafarski  on  09/30  at  07:20 AM
  45. We have a similar league in our area but we do not use other little leaguers to help in th eleague - that is a GREAT idea.  Thanks for sharing.

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  52. Those people are jerks who look down upon kids that play in leagues like the Challenger League.

    Posted by Custom Wood Bats  on  01/03  at  02:11 PM
  53. Great pics, My son also wants to start baseball I think it’s a great sport! :D

    Posted by rencontre serieuse  on  03/15  at  04:23 PM
  54. Oh it’s just indescribably wonderful what you wrote))) Nothing I’ve seen so far not. I think this is really a very nice post.

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  55. Jamie is fantastic, brings back some of the things I went through with my sister and worries during my pregnancy. Wishing you all the best for the future.

    Posted by Sonia Freeman  on  04/15  at  02:11 PM





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