‘Buddy Ball’ emphasizes pure joy of the game
Scorekeeping was not the order of the day, nor was middle-relief strategy, pinch-hitting decisions or adjustment for pull hitters at Hilliard’s Alt Field on Sunday, June 2.
Cheers erupted when a baseball bat met a ball and players experienced the sheer joy of rounding the bases and jumping squarely on home plate, regardless of the distance the ball traveled.
The approximately 20 players, clad in red Cardinals uniforms or black-and-orange Giants uniforms, were part of the Hilliard Baseball Association’s Buddy Division.
The division’s six-game season is open to boys and girls ages 6 to 18 who are physically or mentally handicapped. Players are divided into two teams; this season, they are the Cardinals and the Giants.
At each game, a volunteer “buddy” is matched with one of the players to help bat, run bases, field and throw.
At the June 2 game, players from the 10-U Hilliard Colts, a travel baseball team for players up to 10 years old, served as buddies.
The game also had an extra element for Buddy Division players because it included pre-game introductions with players lining up on the baselines, the announcement of at-bats and music. The league’s other games are played at Roger A. Reynolds Municipal Field, which lacks a PA system.
Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger lent just the right amount of inspiration for personal achievement, complemented by John Fogerty’s Centerfield, an ode to the unadulterated joy of simply playing the game.
David Baldridge, commissioner of the Buddy Division, pitched from between the mound and home plate to players for both teams, each side batting an entire lineup for two innings.
That both teams wore different jerseys was not noticed, though.
A Giants player named Olivia, fielding from the pitcher’s position, joined a Cardinals player at first base, running with him to third base until Baldridge softly said, “Olivia, you’re supposed to be playing pitcher with me.”
Olivia returned to the mound, but had just as much fun circling the bases.
The bases were busy in the two-inning affair as players ran on contact in almost every instance.
In some circumstances, Baldridge said, he elected to pitch again to players he knows can hit at a certain level, including Darby High School student Jubari Wilson, who, after fouling off several pitches, drove a shot up the middle of the infield.
Kelly Jenkins, an announcer for the Hilliard Colts, used the PA system to credit each RBI and announced other offense efforts, such as a double steal during the course of the game.
Coach Rick Oyster of the 10-U Hilliard Colts said he hoped the experience instilled in his players a deeper appreciation for their skills and help them recognize that some people work just as hard as they do, even if the results are not the same.
He said previously the Hilliard Baseball Association’s coaching philosophy focuses on helping young men mature.
“It was a cool experience, I had fun, too ... and I had a nice partner,” said Kyle Pepera, a Colts player and student at Norwich Elementary School
The game concluded with a potluck picnic for players, parents and family members of the players and buddies.
The Buddy Ball season ends June 16 with a final game and awards ceremony.
Kevin Corvo is a reporter for ThisWeek Community News.