Hilliard Baseball Association
Coaches, parents: 'Buddy Ball' a win for everyone
How to time a fastball or shift an infield are not the only things Hilliard Baseball Association coaches want youngsters to learn.
The baseball association also emphasizes character development.
"Our coaching philosophy isn't only about being a player, but maturing young men and giving them an appreciation for the benefits they enjoy," said Rick Oyster, coach of the 10-U Hilliard Colts.
To that end, players on the 10-U Hilliard Colts, a travel baseball team for players up to 10 years old, on June 2 will participate in one of the Hilliard Baseball Association-sponsored Buddy Division games.
Known as "Buddy Ball," the six-game season is open to boys and girls ages 6 to 18 who are mentally or physically disabled.
About 25 children are participating in the Buddy Ball this year; most, but not all, reside in the Hilliard school district.
"These are kids that otherwise would not be able to experience a team sport," said David Baldridge, commissioner of the Buddy Division of the Hilliard Baseball Association. "Buddy Ball allows them to be a member of a team, wear a uniform and do what a lot of their peers have a chance to do."
Players in the Buddy Division are divided into two teams; this season, they are the Cardinals and the Giants.
Teams play each other on Sundays in May and June, except Memorial Day weekend, at Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Park, 3800 Memorial Drive in Hilliard.
The teams play two innings, and each side bats an entire lineup each half inning.
At each game, a volunteer "buddy" is matched with one of the players to help bat, run bases, field and throw.
"It's great to see (these) kids socialize, be adventurous and see a smile on their face," Oyster said.
Oyster's 10-U Colts players will be buddies at noon Sunday, June 2, at Alt Field, 3800 Municipal Square in Hilliard.
It will be the only game of the six played at a different time and location, and it will conclude with a picnic and cookout for all the Hilliard Baseball Association players.
The game at Alt Field also will provide the Buddy Division players with a new experience: hearing their names announced.
Alt Field, unlike Municipal Park, has a public address system.
"The Hilliard Baseball Association will announce all the kids' names as they come to bat," Oyster said.
Daniel Bibler, 14, a student at Hilliard Heritage Middle School, served as a buddy when he played on the 10-U Colts team four years ago. Bibler is a member of the 14-U Colts team and his father, Jim, is a coach.
"It was fun experience for me and it was really something to see the joy on their faces," Bibler said. "I help out wherever else I can in the community because of my Buddy Ball experience."
Bibler said he is on a youth council at school and also volunteers at a preschool where his mother teaches.
"Not all kids are (equally) blessed and I think our kids, when working with Buddy Ball, get a better appreciation for what gifts they have," Jim Bibler said.
Oyster's daughter, Emily, is one of the Buddy Ball athletes.
"(Buddy Ball) gives her the same kinds of experiences she would not be able to enjoy without a league like this," Oyster said.
Hilliard resident Patty Derdzinski said her 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, has improved her social skills playing Buddy Ball.
"She loves to play," Derdzinski said of Olivia, who has Down syndrome.
When asked her favorite things about Buddy Ball, Olivia demonstrated hitting a ball with a bat and said she liked to hear cheering.
Cheering is a common sound at games, no matter the score or which team is at bat.
"(Parents) cheer for both teams," Derdzinski said. "It doesn't matter which team is up because we want to see them all play and do their best."
The Buddy Ball season concludes June 16 with a final game and awards ceremony.