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Sunday, April 11, 2021

New baseball team expands opportunities for players with disabilities

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Like most baseball fans, David Lowe has a romantic way of talking about the sport he grew up playing.

The one-on-one struggle between a pitcher and a batter — Lowe loves it.
“There’s nothing like it,” he said.

Lowe is now the head coach of the Indianapolis Flames, a new team that’s part of the Alternative Baseball Organization. The league is for players with autism and other disabilities.

Lowe and his wife, Brittany, are the team’s general managers.

It’s unclear when the Flames or any of the other 82 teams across the country will be able to take batting practice and field grounders because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but when that time comes, the Lowes said they want to create a supportive environment where wins and losses are secondary.

David throws a ball for his son to hit.

“I want us to kind of be a family,” said David, who played baseball through high school and recently got his coaching certificate.

The Lowes have a 5-year-old son with autism and understand the importance of creating spaces that are not only tailored to people with physical or mental disabilities, but also spaces that focus on the positives.

Services such as therapy are necessary, but they can also become overwhelming. A baseball diamond is where people can have fun and build friendships.

“It’s a judgment-free zone,” said Brittany, who runs an informal support group on Facebook for parents who have children with autism. “We’re not gonna focus on what it is they might struggle with. We’re trying to shed light on their gifts, their talents.”
Brittany said the ideal situation would be to have two Flames teams in Indianapolis — one north and one south — to accommodate players on opposite sides of the city, but that would require more players, coaches and volunteers.

The season likely won’t start until June, she said. There is no maximum age limit, but players must be at least 15.

Learn more about how to get involved at alternativebaseball.org.

Taylor Duncan started the Alternative Baseball Organization in 2016. Duncan, who has autism, loves baseball but had a difficult time finding acceptance in the sport as a kid.

“It’s a fantastic feeling to be able to go out there and serve others like myself,” he said.

The league had 20 teams before the pandemic but grew rapidly, Taylor said, because of expanded media coverage as people craved sports with major American leagues on pause.

Unlike most other sports leagues for people with disabilities, the league does not include on-field “buddies” to help players, but gameplay is designed to match each player’s skill level. That means, for example, some batters face overhand pitching while others face underhand pitching or hit off of a tee.

Other than that, the standard rules of baseball apply. Three strikes and you’re out; four balls is a walk. Players can lead off and steal bases, and games go to extra innings if there’s a tie.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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