The joy of baseball: Smiles abound during Challenger season openers
Sadie Beale has one of the sweetest smiles you’ll ever see on a ballplayer.
The 12-year-old Challenger baseball player wasn’t alone in the smiles department Wednesday at Bergman Field.
Almost 50 special-needs children and their buddies from the Mesa State College softball team were having the times of their lives in the season opener.
“How was I doing?” Sadie asked, cradling her pink and baby blue glove, after the Hooks played the Volcanos.
Normally, only two teams play on opening night, but softball coach Kris Mort suggested all four teams be part of the special night.
She grilled hot dogs for the players — after, of course, they got together for group pictures and a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
Sadie, who plays for the Hooks, has been involved with Challenger for six years. She also loves to play soccer, and, said her buddy, Alaina Brennan, volleyball.
But ask Sadie what her favorite game is, and you get that big grin again.
When asked what her buddies have taught her, Sadie didn’t hesitate.
“That you get to throw the ball and have a bunch of fun,” she said.
Sadie is mildly autistic with developmental delays and sensory issues, said her mother, Kristi Beale. Activities such as Challenger help special-needs children not only have some fun, she said, but lets them develop friendships.
“Mostly it’s the fact that she gets to see the same group of kids from Colorado Discover Ability,” Kristi Beale said. “They all do activities together, it’s its own little community within Grand Junction. They all seem to know each other.
“When we were involved with Mesa Developmental Services, some of those kids from her preschool, we get to see them grow up.”
As Sadie was leaving the field, she saw one of her friends.
“Hi! How are you?” she asked Lavonda Roussin, who plays for the River Cats. The two chatted for a few minutes before Sadie left to get her hot dog and Lavonda got ready for her game.
Area high school and college teams volunteer to be buddies during the Challenger season, now in its 13th year.
The buddies play alongside the Challenger players, helping with fielding the ball, getting them in the proper hitting stance and running the bases. Tonight, the Mesa State football team will be the buddies for the Rockhounds and River Cats.
And the Challenger players help each other. Seth Dunham, 16, is a Challenger veteran. He was pitching for the River Cats, and was encouraging the Rockhound batters as they tried to master hitting a pitched ball.
“Keep your eye on the ball, OK? Eye on the ball,” he said as he tossed another pitch.
Parents cheered when their children were introduced as they came to the plate, and many of the players smiled and waved to their families in the stands.
In Challenger, everybody hits, everybody scores and everybody has a great time.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Brennan said. “It’s rewarding to come out here, not only to give back, but we have a lot of fun coming out here.
“You can’t not have a smile on your face being out here playing with these kids.”