Young baseball players tackle a challenge

June 29, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Sun Staff Writer

Arthur James "A. J." Barnes, born seven years ago with a disabling disorder, is becoming a slugger in his own right for his Marley Challenger Division Little League team.

He doesn't need as much help as he used to holding a bat, and now he usually can whack a baseball off a tee in two tries instead of four.

"I was surprised. I didn't think A. J. could do it. I didn't think he could hold the bat up," said his mother, Bonnie Barnes, 28, of Glen Burnie.

The challenger division, formed last year, is for youngsters with mental and physical handicaps. The two-team league operates from April to June.

The teams practice Monday evenings. At high noon Saturdays, the Marlins, dressed in blue, and the Astros, dressed in orange, square off against each other in three-inning games on a field at Marley Elementary School in Glen Burnie. Sometimes, they play another team of disabled youngsters from Arnold.

"These kids deserve to play like the others. They don't do as great. But they do great for us," said Angie Ritter, whose son Eric, 12, has Down syndrome and plays in the Marley Division.

"They all show off. They think they're going to be baseball players," said Ms. Ritter, of Glen Burnie. "They enjoy it."

"It's a regular Little League," said coach Greg Meade, whose son Nicholas, 8, plays in the league. "They just happen to have Down syndrome or some other handicap. But you wouldn't know it when you see them out there."

Most of the youngsters never played baseball before the league was started, Mr. Meade said. "There was no outlet we could take Nicholas to play ball, other than taking him out in the backyard to play ball."

Most of the players in the Marley Challenger Division come from Glen Burnie, but the league draws youngsters from across the county, said Mr. Meade, who travels from his home in Arden on the Severn so Nicholas can play.

"It doesn't matter where the kids come from," he said. "The emphasis is on team play much more than competition. Everybody gets to bat and everybody gets to play in the field."

The league also helps build self-confidence and self-esteem, Mrs. Barnes said. "A. J. is really proud that he can hit the ball and run the bases."

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