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Man with autism starting alternative baseball league in suburbs

NORTHBROOK, Ill. — A man from Georgia is expanding the baseball league he started to the Chicago area to give those with disabilities a chance to play America’s pastime.

Taylor Duncan, 27, was diagnosed with autism at the age of four and grew up absolutely loving baseball.

Duncan said as he got older, there were fewer opportunities to play the sport he loved with coaches deeming his disability as a safety issue.

“I really had the desire to give back to others like myself,” Duncan told WGN News. “Baseball provides valuable lessons like character, becoming a team player and learning how to communicate.”

So in 2016, Duncan got to work because he knew from his own experiences that these types of positive experiences for people with disabilities can become harder to find after high school.

“Once those with disabilities graduate out of high school, (opportunities) can completely fall off the cliff,” Duncan said. “There’s got to be more services not only to play sports but to continue learning life skills.”

Duncan, with the help of his mother, was able to start the non-profit Alternative Baseball.

The first team was able to get off the ground in Dallas, Georgia after Duncan recruited some adult softball players to help out.

Alternative Baseball got a big break in 2018 when his league was featured by ESPN.

Already networking to expand the league at the time, the momentum allowed Duncan to foster more connections and help put teams in several states.

Duncan said what makes Alternative Baseball different from other recreational leagues for those with disabilities is they keep score and record outs — striving to play the game, full of strategy, just like the Cubs or White Sox.

“It warms my heart and brings a tear to my eye — I want to instill the confidence in the teams and fine tune what is perceived to be a weakness,” Duncan said.

The league does cater to skill level, with players receiving fast pitch to hitting off a tee. They use little bit of a larger baseball that is softer.

In addition to growing up watching the Braves on TBS, Duncan also has fine memories of watching the Cubs on WGN and knows how passionate the Chicago area is for baseball.

Last year, he was contacted by Beth Engelman and her 17-year-old son Jackson Berner, of Glenview.

Engelman, a special education teacher, loves baseball and is supporting the new suburban league financially so everyone can play for free.

“We’re huge baseball fans, when it comes to the games — I want them to get used to it and feel good about it,” Engelman said.

Being last minute, Engelman and Berner had a tough time recruiting players last fall. They hope to change that this summer.

They have secured Williamsburg Park in Northbrook for practices and games every Monday evening from June 19 through Aug. 21.

Flyer for the league

So far, Engelman said they have five players officially signed up with four more interested.

“It’s all about inclusion and having fun,” Engelman said. “Completely free, we really just want to build it up.”

Like other leagues in Alternative Baseball — Engelman, Berner and Duncan envision multiple teams some day around the Chicago area.

“We want to get this out to the community, we just want a chance,” Duncan said. “We just want to get out there and integrate ourselves in society.”

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