Another face of our t-ball kids
- Published: June 23, 2011
Evan Galarza, age 4, shines his love beacon up at me and says, “I want to be on the field with you.” I am thrilled to be chosen by such a dream child. Meanwhile his sister Natalie, 8, asks her mom Kathleen how come it is always her, Kathleen, in the paper and not her dad, Tom. I tell Kathleen the truth about forgetting names and Tom forgives me, again. I have a Swiss cheese brain when it comes to names. My wife, What’s-Her-Name, and I wear nametags at home: “Who are you again? What are you doing in my house?”
Maritza Slattery, 9, more beautiful than Renoir’s “Japanese Parisian,” races with us to the outfield at the end of the night. Her little brother is Jorge — pronounced “Georgie” in the first three years of his life, but now, by his choice, is pronounced the truly Spanish way: “hore-hay.” “Though,” his mom Maria says, “he likes to be called Joe.”
“Joe? Why Joe,” she asked him.
“It’s shorter. Just three letters,” he said as if that was obvious to any dumbbell.
“Okay, Joe,” we say.
Anyway, he plays all night with us on the smaller diamond, intent, serious, focused, scooping up 442 ground balls, hitting three home runs, and is as handsome as his sister is beautiful.
Mia Campbell is back. She’s 4 and according to her mom Carrie, “She loves t-ball. We always have a great time.” Which we love to hear at the Perry League. We try to be open to all our community’s children, no matter one’s ability or disability. Like Mia, who was born premature with spina bifida, who had to have a tracheotomy last year, as a 3-year-old; a kid who rolls up to the plate in her chair, who rolls onto the diamond in her chair, who is so happy on the diamond, especially when she comes up to the plate. It’s like being in a darkened movie theater, when suddenly the screen’s lit up and music booms at you from four directions at once: that explosion of sound and fury is Mia smiling, Mia beaming, as she rolls up to the plate wielding her bat in her left hand.
Carrie and Aaron, Mia’s parents, say it’s okay to write about this, about Mia’s physical challenges.
“We’re pretty open about it, pretty much everyone knows,” Carrie says. They follow the spina bifida foundation online and think 3E Love, “an ability awareness group,” is wonderful. Carrie says the three E’s stand for “embrace, educate and empower.” Embrace your child, challenges and all, educate your community and empower your kid to love life and live it to the fullest.
“We want to be good advocates for our kids,” Carrie says about herself and Aaron. “We want to help Mia be comfortable in her world and help create a society where she is accepted for who and what she is.” And she thinks they are succeeding, noticing an amazing difference in the 10 years she and Aaron have been at it.
Then there’s Emma Hall, another 4-year-old with a multitude of challenges.
“She has cerebral palsy,” says her mother, Sarah Hall. There’s a spot in her brain, Sarah says, reaching down to the top of Emma’s head. Emma is crawling around us as we sit in the bleachers at the end of the night of t-ball, barefoot, exceedingly vigorous, giddy with joy, repeatedly barking up at me. With her is the wonderfully deranged, equally off-the-charts, barking and howling Miss Energy Maniac of the Year, Anaya Adoff, three-and-a-half.
Sarah has her thumb and index finger pinched together the way you might if you were picking a piece of lint off your shirt, or a crumb off your dining room table. She aims those pinched fingers for an imagined spot of trouble at the top of and right in the middle of her Emma’s head. She pinches a tiny, as yet unidentified, spot in her child’s brain and tells me, “There’s a spot in her brain that keeps sending messages to her legs and calves and feet to tighten up.” So Emma’s legs have been constantly and most painfully rigid, the muscles flexed, as tense and taut as they might be should she be leaping straight up into the air, off her pointed toes, like a ballerina.
“Show Jimmy your scar,” Emma’s dad Dusty Hall says. Emma’s about the size of a French bulldog and twice as frisky. She and her dad lift the back of her shirt. There in the middle of her back, right along the spine, is a three-to-four inch, still red, slightly sore-looking scar. You can see the cross stitching where the stitches had been. She’d had spinal surgery just four weeks earlier. They’d gone to St. Louis. To one of the world’s finest, most skilled spine surgeons.
“She’s got so much spunk,” I said to Sarah earlier in the evening when Emma had her braces on, heavy metal and rubber boot-like things that rose to just below her knees. She’d hit the ball and then run clunk, clunk, clunk, to first base.
Stick your feet into a bucket of wet cement, let it dry around your feet and ankles, and then try trotting out to the street in front of your house. That’s what Emma Hall was doing with nary a complaint, whine or whimper. An exuberant child running with 20-pound weights on her feet and not an ounce of self pity. Instead, this terrific little girl, this lovely blonde darling, was delighted to be here, passionately happy to be hitting, running and scooping up ground balls.
Maria Slattery told me how Emma and Jorge are in the same nursery school and how the kids talk about t-ball all year — there’s snow on the ground and the kids want to know, “Can we play now? No? When then? When?” So the day after our season opener on June 3, two weeks after Emma’s surgery, Maria sent her a hat, a shirt and, from Perry League’s co-coordinator Jason Newsome, the loan of an official Perry League bat. The whole family was touched, and Emma had her mom out in the back yard that same week, not even three full weeks since her surgery, making her mom put that ball on their home tee, practicing and getting ready for when she could come back to join us at Gaunt Park. Which, we’re happy to report, she did last Friday night.
And that’s another face of the Perry League, Yellow Springs’ beginner’s baseball program for all our community’s children regardless of race, color, creed, ability or disability. We love you all and welcome you all to this most remarkable, most loving, most stunning, most moving, most surprising, most inspiring, most amazing of community activities. If you’re feeling a little low, if the problems of life are weighing you down, then come on out to t-ball and watch our young warriors, our young heroes, just trying to have a little fun. It might just cheer you up. That’s at Gaunt Park, on both the ball diamonds from 6:30–8 p.m. on Friday night. Your kid can start at any time and there’s no requirement to play every week. So come on out when you can, when you like. We’ll be out there, ready and willing.