Diamond memories

Trip to Little League World Series a grand adventure for GJ Challenger players

Colorado Mesa baseball player John Beaudrie, 12, holds a Twitter selfie camera and his Challenger buddy Tanner Casteel, after the Grand Junction team played an exhibition game at the Little League World Series in August.

Grand Junction Challenger co-director Kelli Hamilton, left center, and director Carma Brown, right, were all smiles in August in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania after the culmination of a year-long campaign to raise money to get the Grand Junction team to the Little League World Series.

There were squeals of delight and uncontrollable giggling as a group of youngsters and young adults embarked on an adventure of a lifetime.

In August, Grand Junction’s Challenger baseball team was off to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. The team played an exhibition game against Camp Hill, Pennsylvania that was broadcast live locally by PBS.

The Challenger baseball program is a true gem of the Grand Valley. The program for special-needs kids was founded by Carma Brown, the director of Grand Junction Challenger, and Kelli Hamilton, the co-director of the league that’s grown from a half-dozen players to eight full teams. Both women have special-needs children.

“My vision then, my vision today, is the same,” Brown told Daily Sentinel sports reporter Patti Arnold, who made the trip with the team. “All we ever wanted was these kids to have a safe place to put down barriers and show the world they’re really not that different.”

Hamilton said the trip was truly an amazing experience.

“Oh, my gosh, to be able to be a parent yesterday and watch their kids in the Little League World Series,” she said then, her voice breaking and her eyes welling with tears, “and hit the first pitch they were pitched to, it still gives me goosebumps, because it’s something a lot of kids will never get to experience.”

The trip was funded through a year-long campaign that raised $75,000 for the team, which included the special-needs players and their buddies, baseball players from Colorado Mesa.

As for the 15 players who made the trip, it was a grand adventure from the plane rides to all the festivities at the Little League World Series to the game.

Playing in front of a packed crowd, with proud parents holding up signs showing a team photo with the words “Grand Junction,” it was a thrilling and emotional day for all.

Players danced, blew kisses to the crowd, rounded the bases laughing and enjoyed the game of baseball on Little League’s largest stage.

“As the parent of a special-needs child, it was a magical full 60 minutes for us, for our kids, for our parents, for the city of Grand Junction,” Hamilton said.

Tears of joy flowed throughout from parents, supporters and even from the CMU baseball players.

“Oh, my gosh, it’s life-changing, honestly,” said CMU player Kyle Serrano, who grew up playing Little League in Grand Junction. “It was crazy. I was trying to hold back tears running to first base.”

Cody Gordon, who’s a freshman at CMU and was playing in his final Challenger game, was a bundle of nerves before the game because he was asked to read the Little League pledge.

But then came the game and nothing else matter as he rounded the bases on crutches.

“I love playing baseball,” he said. “Coming out here and playing, it was awesome.”

So many memories for the players, supporters and parents.

Afterward, Little League players and coaches from Australia, Canada, California and Mexico came onto the field to congratulate both Challenger teams.

An adventure of a lifetime for 15 special-needs players who love baseball and having fun.


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