Swinging the Little League bat with all the power she could muster, Annie tapped the ball off the flexible rubber tee. It dribbled toward the pitcher. With teammates and the crowd yelling for her, Annie sprinted toward first base.
The pitcher, a lanky junior from the Prescott High School Badgers, dashed in, scooped up the ball and aimed toward first base – but it sailed over first base by a good 30 feet into right field.
“Run, Annie, run! Go to second base,” said the Badger first baseman.
The Badger second baseman ran down the base path and got behind Annie. When she stumbled, he helped her get back on track.
The Badger outfielder picked up the ball and threw it. The yellow baseball arced over third base toward the opposing team’s dugout.
“Come on, Annie, run!” her teammates yelled.
Annie rounded third base, headed for home plate.
The Badger catcher scrambled toward the dugout to get the overthrown ball. He was chasing Annie. When she stumbled again, he dropped the ball. He helped her up and escorted her to home plate. She hesitated, then jumped up and landed on it. Eight-year-old Annie scored the first run of the game. But not the last.
The crowd went wild. Teammates threw baseball caps in the air. They stormed home plate to give her high fives. Her coach, John Mackin, gave her a warm hug. He took her back to the dugout where her proud parents wrapped their arms around her.
The next batter, Joel, age 23, rolled up to the plate in his wheelchair. He hit the second pitch toward shortstop, accepted crutches from Coach Mackin and marched toward first base—and second – and on, until he scored the next run.
Nineteen other players then batted, all members of the Ability Angels. Every one scored.
When the top of the inning finished, the Ability Angels were ahead by 21 runs. They took the field. The Prescott Badgers – a contender for state finals – came to bat.
The Badgers didn’t score one run. They didn’t even get a hit. At the end of two innings, the Ability Angels, who batted around once more, had a shutout. The score: 42 to 0. The Ability Angels had won again.
Since they started playing in 2010, the Ability Angles have not lost a single game, and they’ve not been scored on. That record stands.
The Ability Angels team has 29 players this year for its 10-game, two month summer season, explained head coach John Mackin. Mackin is assisted by volunteers Craig Malone, Brian Malone, Joe Allen, Rex and Michael Cruz. Players’ parents support them.
Mackin has coached the Ability Angels for the past eight years. Mackin’s full-time job is area director of Young Life-West Yavapai. His ball club’s members have cognitive and/or physical disabilities.
“No matter what the challenge is, every player is valued and given a chance to enjoy a game to have fun and be a team member. Players range in age from four-year-olds to 23,” he said. “What is gratifying is that every team that we play – and we play 10 teams every season – displays great sportsmanship, acceptance and sensitivity.”
Teams the Ability Angles play range from the standard Little League squads to the Prescott High School varsity and finally to the City of Prescott Fire Department team.
Badger Head Coach Kent Winslow, now in his 13th season at Prescott High School, said, “We’ve been shut out every year, and we’re proud of it. My players have developed a sensitivity and compassion that they otherwise might not have experienced.”
Chase Kasun, the senior Badger catcher, said after the game, “For me, this is the best game of the year. This is what baseball is all about – teamwork, having fun, but most of all, respecting other players.”
Ability Angel parents Sarah and Damian Gusset of Chino Valley said that having their child play in a team setting where everyone has fun and is accepted is a victory for him.
The team is sponsored by Ability, a Dewey-based organization that serves the special needs community throughout the Quad Cities. Founded in 2010, Ability opened a second facility in Prescott in 2015.
Mackin complimented the City of Prescott for its support. “Prescott Parks and Recreation gives us baseball gloves and other equipment to hand out to our players.”
He also thanked the Arizona Diamondbacks. “Every year, the Diamondbacks give us a suite after the season ends so we can take our team to a major league game to celebrate. Do you know how that makes these kids feel? They understand that someone really does care for them as people.” QCBN
By Ray Newton, QCBN
#1For eight years, John Mackin, area director for Young Life West Yavapai, has served as head coach for the Ability Angels ball club, a team of special needs youngsters.
Photo by Ray Newton