By: Patricia Titus
I have a story to share about our small community, Floyds Knobs. I know everyone is getting geared up for football but this is baseball.
My son Jacob’s t-ball team made it to the championship game in the Floyds Knobs Community Club league tournament this year. He’s four and it was his first year playing. It was awesome! Fun and exciting. But it was so much more than that. Jacob’s experience was a wonderful display of acceptance and patience and love. Love of baseball and love of a child.
When I signed my kids up this year, I was unsure of how it would go. Not for my daughter Lauren, 10 or my older son Matthew, 8 but for my youngest. I didn’t know how the coaches would feel about having him on their team. I wondered how the parents of the other children would react and then there were the kids. What I did know is that my kid loved to play ball and he would get his chance. My youngest son loves to bat, loves to run, loves to play catcher. Jacob also happens to have Down syndrome.
His coach’s name was Eric Sprigler. The first time he met Jacob he smiled, shook his hand, and asked if he was ready to play some ball. Jacob assured him he was and so, just like that, it started. The team had two assistant coaches Brian Hooper and Kevin Reed. All three of these men were patient and kind. They seemed genuinely proud of what Jacob could do and how much he improved. As there should be in t-ball, there were lots of high fives and “good jobs” and “nice trys.” There were also more smiles than I could ever count. The coaches for the other teams seemed willing to have Jacob participate as well. One coach even offered to make sure Jacob never got out. We were touched but immediately declined. Jacob would learn the game and getting out was part of it. All the coaches involved seemed to be okay with having Jacob there.
But still, how I worried and watched. Watched and worried. What were the other parents thinking? Were they saying he didn’t belong? I didn’t have to wonder for long. At practice, Quentin’s mom, Penny touched my arm and assured me that last year her son also stood in the outfield playing in the dirt with his glove on his head. “Just give him time.” That was what I needed to hear. Little by little, I worried less and enjoyed it more. Once I tried to express to Eric’s wife how grateful I was that everyone was so good to Jacob and she smiled and said simply, “We are lucky to have him.”
When Jacob was at bat he had an amazing cheering section. It seemed to include everyone watching the game. Jacob would make it to first, everyone would cheer and he would take a couple of bows. The first base coach told me he was saying, “thank you, thank you” as he bowed. Several parents from our team and from other teams would take pictures of Jacob for us and send them to us.
Jacob loved baseball and he loved being at the park anytime (hey, what’s not to love…concession stand, dirt, hotdogs?!) but when he would see me get out his uniform he would ask, “My turn, Mommy?” I would assure him that it was indeed his turn. His reply was, “Thank you, thank you!” On days we were at the park for Lauren or Matthew’s games, Jacob would take the much loved trek to the concession stand with his Papaw. My father in law said he would hear “Hi Jacob” and “there’s Jacob” several times there and back. Jacob would smile and wave shyly. Everyone seemed to know him and everyone smiled at him. Everyone seemed to accept Jacob. He was part of the team and he was part of the community.
As for the other kids, they were just as welcoming. When we would show up for practice, we would always hear “Jacob’s here!” Blaise, also four, was his buddy and would greet him with a hug. Quentin, five would make sure Jacob knew what was going on and Ben made sure Jacob stayed in the correct batting order in the dugout. I know part of the way kids are so accepting has to do with just being a kid but I also know that the parents of these kids made a difference too. What a blessing we had found in our community.
So how did the actual playing go? Jacob, like everyone else loved to bat. He could hit it without the tee and most times, make it to first. Many times he made it all the way home. His dad actually kept his stats. In the beginning his dad or I would stay in the outfield or follow him around the bases but by the end it was not necessary. Eric’s wife, Lisa was the one to notice Jacob’s interest in being catcher. He was a good catcher. Actually, he was a catcher/bat boy/umpire. He would hand bats back to the players after foul balls or take it to the other dugout after a hit. He cleaned the plate and “help” put the ball on the tee for the batter when needed. He had the catcher stance (or squat) down too.
Actually all of Jacob’s skills improved this season. Baseball and otherwise. Baseball teaches you teamwork, good sportsmanship, turn-taking, friendship, respect and hard work ethic. Jacob learned so much from his peers. I hope they learned a little something from him too. As I said, the Royals made it to the championship game. The boys were excited, the coaches and parents were as well. They had worked really hard to get there. I remember sitting in the stands feeling so blessed just to have him playing. (Something I didn’t dream possible when he had his open heart surgery at seven months of age). I was trying to figure out how to express my thanks to all these wonderful people. When the game ended we came up a little short. We were still going to get a trophy and so we gathered in the outfield for the presentation. Before they started handing out trophies, they asked my husband, Jacob and I to come out together. We did and Jacob was presented an autographed ball from the Louisville Bats from his coaches. I believe they said it was a “good attitude and hard work” award. I stood there with my husband, holding my son and I cried. Jacob was so proud. As a parent, you put your children out there. You pray that people will be kind to them. You want them to accept them and you want them to belong. You sometimes dare to hope that someone might even notice what a great kid you have and appreciate him for who he is. It was a beautiful season. Jacob and his family were given a time we will always remember. It wasn’t a time that was centered around doctor visits or therapies or special teachers. It was time for Jacob to just be a kid, like everyone else, swinging for the fence. His dad and I want to express our appreciation to the coaches, parents, players, umpires and the community. We live in such a great place and if “Baseball is life,” then Jacob will be just fine.