Edson: TC Dream Team Lives Up To Its Name
For 90 minutes every Saturday this time of year, the Traverse City Dream Team baseball league lives up to its name.
The players range in age from 8 to 23 years old. All of them have disabilities and all of them look forward to playing a two-inning game at the Civic Center with a playing partner, who helps them negotiate their way around the bases and in the field.
“This is the start of our fifth year,” said director Dayna Ryan. “This league means so much to our kids, their care-givers and anyone who takes part.”
On Saturday, I was asked to “umpire” the junior division season opener. I put quote marks around the word “umpire” because basically all I did was encourage the kids and their partners as they took part. I loved every minute of it and would do it again in a heartbeat.
Why? Well, where else can you spend a couple hours around a bunch of positive, uplifting people? Where else would high school athletes from Traverse City West, Traverse City Central and Frankfort get up early on a weekend to be partners with these young players and end up feeling THEY were the ones that benefited most?
One of the athletes from Traverse City West who was helping me around home plate on Saturday was amazed at what he experienced.
“I thought I was the one who would be doing the helping this morning,” he said. “Turns out, I learned way more from these kids.”
What did he learn? There are lessons in perseverance, encouragement and skill development to name a few… lessons we take for granted every day.
“Every player plays and every player bats every inning,” said Ryan. “No one is left out.”
Here’s how each inning works. A batter is thrown three pitches by one of their peers. If a ball isn’t hit, then a playing partner delivers three pitches. If that doesn’t work, the player then hits off a tee. Some players prefer to start with a tee. The point is, this is all about each individual player.
One of the highlights for me was watching a player come to bat, then stopping to hug the opposing catcher he knew.
Another player was a shy girl who tucked in behind her dad when she was introduced to her partner, a softball player from Frankfort. By the end of the game, this shy girl was all smiles as she circled the bases, touched home plate and rang the bell that all players do after they score.
The other groups that are critical to the success of the Dream Team are the coaches, volunteers and Dream Team coordinators.
There are variations of these leagues all over the country. Ryan’s role is not only getting the league ready, but securing sponsors. The Traverse City Dream Team league has its own website to highlight what it does.
And what it does is lift people up – from the players, to the parents, to the volunteers.
I know my heart was full as I walked to my car afterwards.
Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.