Coronavirus cut their 2020 season on a brand new field to just three weeks. Now, you can celebrate the milestone with the team!

TEMPLE TERRACE, Fla. — It’s finally time to play ball! We’re not talking about the pros, though MLB is also back on the field for Spring Training. Buddy Baseball, a team for kids with special needs, is returning to the field for the 2021 season.

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“We started last year, and we got three weeks in before we had to shut down,” Executive Director of Buddy Baseball Russ Oberbroeckling said.

He says the group is ready to play ball for their 1,000th game this Saturday, thanks to health and safety protocols.

“The kids are so excited to play. The parents are, too. They just want to get out. They know that they have to wear their mask. Everyone is complying. We haven’t had any issues,” Oberbroeckling said.

Everyone has to wear a mask, have their temperature taken and fill out a questionnaire before getting in the stands. Organizers and volunteers are disinfecting the bleachers and spacing out seating, along with offering hand sanitizing stations.

“We have a dedicated volunteer staff and the community service groups have stepped up to help man our service tent. It’s been a win-win for everyone,” Oberbroeckling said.

Buddy Baseball plays on two fields, including one with synthetic turf to make it more accessible for kids with mobility challenges. Since it opened just before the pandemic hit, this will be the first full season the field will be used.

“We’ve got probably at least six kids in wheelchairs or walkers or others with mobility issues, so we make sure they play on that field. It’s just easier to push a wheelchair around on the turf instead of the dirt,” Oberbroeckling said.

RELATED: New synthetic field opens doors to baseball for athletes with special needs

He hopes both fields will be accessible in the next few years. There are eight games on Saturday, Mar. 20 at the Temple Terrace Family Recreation Center behind Lewis Elementary School. Each game lasts about an hour, starting at 9:30 a.m.

There’s no cost to watch the games, but a donation to Buddy Baseball goes a long way. The group helps cover registration costs for kids who couldn’t otherwise afford to play. They also give out scholarships to graduating seniors who’ve played at least three seasons with the team.

Buddy Baseball invites kids with special needs, ages 8-22 play on a non-competitive team alongside a buddy. Oberbroeckling says it’s about more than baseball for everyone involved.

“It’s just an amazing time. We just love the opportunity that these kids can play on a team and have the confidence to play and succeed at it. These kids are making friends. Social barriers are being broken down. We’re all about acceptance and inclusiveness,” he said. 

If you can’t make it to the game, you can still support Buddy Baseball through an online raffle. There are cash and gift cards up for grabs, along with a baseball autographed by Austin Meadows.

You can buy a raffle ticket until 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 21. The drawing will happen live over Zoom and Facebook at 7 p.m. that night.

“It’s just a fun way to spend a Saturday. If you haven’t smiled in a while, come out to a game and see what kind of enjoyment these kids have playing Buddy Baseball.”

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