CENTRAL ILLINOIS — As a youth with autism, Taylor Duncan had trouble fitting in on the baseball diamond, but he always had a passion for the sport.
His goal in life now is to continue to expand his fledgling Alternative Baseball league, which gives those 15 years old and up with autism or other disabilities an opportunity to play.
The Georgia native wants to expand the league, which is already in 12 states, to 21 more, including Central Illinois.
“We want to make sure that everyone has a true opportunity to participate, because nobody should be shortchanged from having the opportunity to play traditional sports,” said Duncan.
Players are already lining up to take part. Next up is finding a coach, Duncan, the league’s founder and commissioner, said.
“We need a coach or manager to help us get it going. They will spearhead it over in that area, and we will provide resources to recruit players, and we will send them their first dozen balls free,” the Georgia native said.
Those interested in the opportunity – either as players, coaches or umpires – can find more information at www.alternativebaseball.org.
Duncan grew up a fan of the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks, but developmental delays kept him off the field for much of his youth. When finally able to play, he appreciated learning about teamwork and leadership, attributes he wants to pass on.
But playing came at a cost, usually social stigma that came with his condition, which included anxiety and speech issues.
He speaks fine now, and does it loudly for his cause.
“We’re going to keep going until we fill every community up,” Duncan said. “We’re not going to stop.”
It’s true baseball, with a few adjustments, including a slightly larger ball.
“We play by Major League rules. We’ve still got base stealing; we’ve got balks; there’s the four-pitch intentional walk,” Duncan said.
And, in a page taken from more informal pickup and sandlot ball, the home team is determined with an old fashioned, hand-over-hand bat toss. Whoever ends up with their hand at the top chooses.
Before each game, each batter can opt for pitches to come in fast, slower or can hit off a tee. Games are seven or nine innings, and there are unlimited designated hitters to give everyone a chance to participate.
Competitors must be at least 15 years of age, but there is no upper age limit, with some in their 60s getting on the field for some teams.
Duncan said the effort started in 2016 as a local awareness campaign in his hometown of Dallas, Ga., with just seven players. Now there are 20 teams in 12 states, with goals to expand that to 82 teams in 33 states this year. He also dreams of teams in other countries like Japan, where there has been some interest.
He is not terribly surprised how quickly the effort has grown.
“I realized this wasn’t going to be some local awareness campaign. This was going to fulfill a national need, because there’s nowhere even near enough services in the country to be able to serve those after high school, because services often crater after high school,” Duncan said.
About the Alternative Baseball League
In 2016, The idea of Alternative Baseball® originated in Dallas, Ga. by Taylor Duncan, a young man on the autism spectrum. Taylor always wanted to play traditional sports growing up, but was often denied opportunities due to the commonly low perception of what one with autism can and cannot accomplish.
With his positive experiences in baseball and slow-pitch softball across the Southeast region, Taylor decided it was time to give those opportunities to other teens and adults (ages 15+) just like him to play in a traditional baseball setting free of judgment, instead focusing on physical and social skills growth through the hands-on authentic experience in all practices and games. Some of the players have since taken their skills to apply into other areas in life off the baseball diamond, including employment.
Players can be of any experience to participate. Games are played using the classic version of the Professional Baseball Rules. Many games are played between seven to nine innings. Players pitch and catch behind the plate in Alternative Baseball.
Today, the program is setting up new programs in 12-plus states across the country with many more on the way.