By Glen Miller,
El Reno Tribune
By now most of you have either watched or heard about the video circling the Internet of Washington Nationals superstar Bryce Harper telling a bunch of youth baseball players that participation trophies don’t count.
In case you did miss the video, his comments were: “As much as they might tell you, ‘It’s OK, you guys lost today.’ No, Johnny. No participation trophies, OK? First place only, all right?”
Well, Mr. Harper, in your perfect world of white baseballs for batting practice, steak dinners in the clubhouse, a new bat and gloves with just a phone call, you might think that “winner take all” attitude is all that matters.
However, Mr. Harper, there are more levels to America’s pastime that you probably overlooked as you jet across the nation at 30,000 feet.
Thursday night over two dozen baseball players all got a participation trophy during the awards ceremony for the Spirit League. I can promise you that each of those kids will cherish that little trophy, 5 inches tall at best, as much as the Cubs did the Commissioners Trophy after a 108-year hiatus.
For those unfamiliar with the Spirit League, it’s based out of the city of Yukon’s Parks and Recreation Department. The league plays indoor soccer in the fall, basketball and bowling in the winter and of course baseball in the spring.
What makes the Spirit League so unique is that the players who make up the teams all have some form of disability – mental or physical. Young kids to adults, wheelchairs and walkers, are all welcome to participate.
This spring there were six baseball teams. No fancy color-combo home and away uniforms, just a T-shirt with team names like Coyotes, Comets, Pirates, Sluggers, Angels and Jaguars.
While Mother Nature scrapped a few dates, teams were slated to play an eight-week schedule which culminated with an All-Star Game two days before trophies were handed out.
The All-Star Game featured every player in the league and each was paired with a buddy for batting and fielding which came from either the Yukon fire or police departments.
Floating around the field, or rather dancing like a Major League Baseball mascot, was YFD’s “Sparky” the fire pup.
Another unique feature of Spirit League baseball, as well as most sports, is that everyone bats at least twice in each game – either off a tee or from a ball tossed by a league worker. The baseball used is softer and larger than a traditional ball, but let me tell you there is no less effort put into hitting those balls than any other youth player in traditional leagues.
Most games last an hour or two innings and are played at the J. Calvin Field, which was constructed by donations for the league’s use only. The field has the touch and smell of real grass everywhere but for the artificial base paths, which make it easier for wheelchair players.
I’ve had the joy for four seasons now to help with my nephew’s team, the Comets, which for the most part has kept the same core of players but added a few more each season.
They come from Yukon, Mustang and El Reno and range in age from high school to elementary school. However, each week their hometown and age are irrelevant because for that hour they participate as Comets.
No score is ever kept. No personal stats jotted down in a scorebook. Just a group of kids with a passion for baseball and want to be a part of a team and given the chance to participate.
Case in point, our catcher Kyle, who is wheelchair-bound and needs the help of his parents with batting and fielding. However, I promise he has just as much passion to play as any other child.
Each time he hits the ball, Kyle moves his legs up and down in his motorized chair as he moves around the base paths. Beaming out from underneath his helmet and face mask is a heart-piercing smile from ear to ear.
When it’s time to take the field, Kyle straps on his leg protectors and his catcher’s helmet and maneuvers himself into position behind home plate.
Yet last week as we were getting ready to start the All-Star Game, I noticed Kyle had his head down and seemed a little upset. Not the normal go-get-’em Kyle I was used to seeing, so I asked him, “Are you ready to bat?”
He responded, “I don’t want to bat.”
Come to find out from his mom, Kyle was upset because the All-Star Game was not like a normal game. There were so many extra players in each dugout – a dozen or more. That’s passion to play baseball like it’s meant to be.
So you see Mr. Harper, participation trophies do count because the players in the Spirit League care more about getting the chance to participate than they do taking first place.