| The Repository
When Taylor Duncan was a child growing up in suburban Atlanta, he was bypassed by people who didn’t think he could play baseball because he has autism.
That was the impetus for the Alternative Baseball League, created by Duncan, 25, to give those with autism and other disabilities an opportunity to participate in the Great American Pastime.
As the league’s commissioner, Duncan, who lives in Atlanta, said he’s seeking a volunteer coach/manager and players to field a team in Canton, one of several cities across the country picked to be part of the league, which is a nonprofit charitable organization.
He hopes a team can be fielded this spring.
“I was diagnosed within the spectrum at age 4,” he said. “Because of that, I was often cut out of sports activities because people didn’t think I could play, I was helped by my mom, my teachers, and others, but I still faced a lot of social stigmas and I was often cut out of social opportunities.
“I decided it was time to give them to others. A lot of areas don’t have access to services once a person graduates from high school. A lot of our players joining us have felt sheltered because they don’t know what’s out there. A lot of communities often don’t offer enough services to help them progress toward independence.”
Duncan said the Alternative Baseball League adheres to traditional baseball rules.
“We play like the Cleveland Indians, only we don’t have great, big stadiums,” Duncan said.
Duncan said he selected Canton because of its location. Teams also have been fielded in South Philadelphia; Hudson County, N.J.; Columbus; Detroit; Watertown, N.Y.; Louisville, Ky.; Chattanooga; Nashville; Buffalo; and Bangor, Maine, with others in Georgia and North Carolina tentatively set to start in late spring or early summer.
The league has grown from 20 teams in 12 states before the pandemic, to more than 80 in 33 states.
“Canton is the bridge between Detroit and Pennsylvania,” he said. “The goal is to actually serve in one area and spread to other areas around it — like a metropolitan league. We are different from other programs in that teams travel to other areas, play on traditional high school-size fields, and play using the same rule-set as the pros on television.”
Duncan also has reached out to Akron, Kent and Wooster about fielding teams.
Laurie Cramer, executive director of the Autism Society of Greater Akron, which also includes Stark County, said she welcomes any positive activities created for people with autism.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity that brings recreation and social opportunities,” she said. “It’s a time to make friends. These are all things that people with autism and other developmental disabilities don’t always have the opportunity to do.”
Cramer said she can sympathize with Duncan’s experience about being left out of sports activities as a child.
“Unfortunately, it’s not a common story,” she said.
Cramer said it’s unknown exactly how many people have autism, but last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected that 5.3 million adults are thought to have been diagnosed within the spectrum.
“Unfortunately, that’s not even broken down state-by-state,” she said. “We’ve been clamoring for this for years.”
The Alternative Baseball League is open to players — men and women — 15 and up.
“You can be young as Sen. Bernie Sanders and still be eligible,” Duncan said laughing.
There’s a small, yearly fee for players to help cover such incidentals as insurance, Duncan said, adding that local teams can decide if they want to wear uniforms. Nationally, the cost has averaged about $25 per person.
“It’ll never be so much that people can’t afford to play,” he said.
The league uses wooden bats and slightly larger than regulation-sized baseballs to accommodate those who’ve never played the game and others who need some assistance because of their disability.
Games are played in the spring and fall, once a week, for 90 minutes. Duncan said the venue will be up to the local coaches.
“We go seven innings, and in the case of a national event, nine innings,” Duncan said. “No buddies will be assisting in the field.”
Some games have been played against teams of retired MLB players.
“We’re looking to syndicate the same across the country,” Duncan said.
Coaches will have access to training resources through online courses.
“Many of our coaches have experience with autism,” he said. “How many gamers per season will be up to the local league. The first year usually is devoted to practice and local scrimmages. It takes about six months to recruit a team.”
The league has been featured on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight,” NBC’s “The Today Show,” and has been recognized as a Community Hero by the Atlanta Braves. Duncan also has given a presentation at TedXAtlanta.
Duncan said the biggest misconception about autism is that people who have it, are severely limited.
“It’s such a wide spectrum that it’s hard to cover everyone’s needs because they’re all so different,” Duncan said. “We have unique traits and characteristics. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all box. All you have to do is give us an opportunity. Let us show you what we can do. We might need more training, but we’re just as capable as everyone else.”
For more information, contact Duncan at 770-313-1762 or visit www.alternativebaseball.org.