Winter has set in, which, in Florida standards does not mean a whole lot weather-wise but it does mark the inching closer of baseball season. Taylor Duncan, Commissioner/Director of the Alternative Baseball Organization, has kicked his operation into high gear as he builds new teams for the late-spring/early summer start to his league’s 2021 season.
The 501c3 Alternative Baseball Organization bills itself as a “baseball experience” for teens, 15 and up, and adults with autism and other disabilities to gain social and physical skills for success in life – on and off the diamond.
“America’s Pastime is the perfect place for our players to learn lessons through the game they can adapt into their personal and work lives,” says Duncan, who conceived the league in 2016.
While he had always wanted to play traditional sports growing up, Duncan was often denied those opportunities due to misconceptions of what someone with autism can and cannot accomplish. Duncan’s has issues with anxiety and with his speech, and those factors, along with developmental delays and the social stigma, kept him out of competitive sports when he was younger.
“I played one year of youth rec ball in ‘08 where I had a great coach who was much more into the fun and the mechanics of the game,” Duncan says. “We learned through our experience it was so much more than just winning and losing. In ‘09, I was cut from the game when a new coach took over whose obsession was winning. Yet, I never gave up. I still loved the game.”
For those with autism, services tend to plateau after high school with little to no help in suburban and rural areas, making a path toward independence much more difficult to navigate. Duncan started Alternative Baseball to give others on the spectrum and with special needs the opportunity to be accepted for who they are and, he says, “to encourage them to be the best they can be!”
Cut to 2021, where Duncan’s league has been featured on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight” and NBC’s “Today Show,” and was honored as a Community Hero at an Atlanta Braves game in 2019. Now Alternative Baseball is planning its post-pandemic comeback by building new teams across the area.
Duncan and his crew secured managers to start new teams serving Pinellas, Polk, Hillsborough and Pasco Counties, adding to the roster of established teams in Seminole and Volusia County, Panama City Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando/Kissimmee.
The league provides equipment and resources, but the new teams here in the Tampa Bay region are actively recruiting players and volunteers before they can go into full swing. The league welcomes players of all experience.
“We take them from where they start out, whether they require to be pitched to slow overhand or hit off a tee,” Duncan says, “and help develop their physical and social skills.
“We’re like a family here,” he adds, “so what are you waiting for?”
Find more at alternativebaseball.org.