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Taylor Duncan Making America’s Pastime Accessible

Taylor Duncan Making America’s Pastime Accessible

By Ron Sandison

“In Alternative Baseball we use baseball to teach our players teamwork with coaches and mentors to ensure a brighter future.”
Taylor Duncan, Founder of Alternative Baseball

I was excited on March 9 to meet Taylor Duncan, the founder of Alternative Baseball at the 2024 Together Conference in Marietta, GA. I presented three breakout secessions and Taylor and I were members of the keynote panel Disability & Leadership. As a child I loved playing baseball and dreamed of being a professional ballplayer like Ricky Henderson. I felt heart-broken when I did not make the middle school baseball team.

Autism made team sports difficult for me with social interaction. As a teenager, Taylor also experienced challenges to play competitive baseball and as a young adult decided to start his own league to empower people with disabilities and Autism to learn teamwork skills through baseball. I enjoyed interviewing Taylor and hearing his quest and passion to make baseball a learning experience and accessible to all.

1. What are some gifts Autism has given you, and your superpower?
Autism has given me the ability to network and meet new people and share my story to help others not only with playing baseball but also through sports to learn life skills. I hope to use my gifts to help people with disabilities to gain more independence as they grow and mature and to have a better quality of life with social connections.

2. At what age were you diagnosed with Autism? What circumstances lead to your diagnosis?
I was diagnosed at age four with Autism. Some of the circumstances leading to my diagnosis were speech delays, sensory issues, and anxiety issues. As a child I had auditory processing disorder and I could not be around noisy crowds. Twenty years ago, I would not have been able to present on a panel before a large audience in an auditorium like I did today. The good Lord has helped me overcome these sensory issues and anxiety with my mom, teachers, and mentors. Coaches who were a positive influence and helped me not only as an athlete but to prepare me for the challenges of life by learning to socialize off the base diamond and deal with disappointments.

3. What was your favorite baseball team as a child and who were you’re three favorite players?
As a child I enjoyed watching the Atlanta Braves. The Braves were America’s team with John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, Ryan Klesko, and Chipper Jones. I also loved Randy Johnson fastball pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks and some of the classic players before my time like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb. The 90’s was a great time to be a baseball fan.

4. Faith has played a key part of your life, how has your faith in Christ empowered you with the challenges of having Autism?
Christ has given me so many opportunities through the years to share my story and to empower others. The biggest thing with my relationship with Christ is not only the blessings He has given me but also learning through the challenges I’ve experienced and helping others to navigate their challenges with faith and perseverance.

5. What is your favorite Scripture? How has this Bible verse encouraged you?
My favorite Bible verse that everyone should know is the culture mandate, Genesis 1:26-27, which says, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” I love these verses because we are created in the image of God with a purpose to share His love with the world.

6. How has sports helped you develop social skills? What was your experience like with playing baseball?
Sports has given me the opportunity to learn social skills with teamwork, make friends, communicate, and learning lessons to deal with the disappointments of losing games and how to be a gracious winner. I am of the old school mentality that you show your opponent respect whether you win or lose. These are important lessons to put into practice in other areas of life like showing respect at work to your supervisors, have humility when sharing your strengths, and working as a team with coworkers to get a project completed with good communication. For example in playing baseball when going for a fly ball you call out “I got it” so your teammate does not run into you, this is good communication.

7. How did you get the vision to launch Alternative Baseball?
My league is an alternative to professional baseball and an alternative to the competitive mindset in sports and is based on inclusion and every player enjoying the game of baseball with a chance to play and make friends. We focus not on stats or wins/loses but the positive benefits playing in a sport’s environment and learning from the experiences. My inspiration for alternative baseball is a desire to play the sport I love and help others with disabilities and Autism enjoy the sport also.

8. How did you begin Alternative Baseball and who helped you in the beginning?
I began Alternative Baseball with six players and a few wood bats purchased from Goodwill. Soon there were two Atlanta teams. As word spread, interest grew and today there are 22 active ABO chapters in 12 states. Alternative Baseball was at first slow pitch softball and the players wanted to experiment with faster pitches. Open to new perspectives I said ‘let’s go for this and see what we can do and grow and built this together.’

9. Who are some famous baseball players you have meet?
In 2019, when I was commemorated as a community hero I meet serval Atlantic Braves players. I have meet Dansby Swanson, Josh Donaldson, and gotten to know coach Brian Snitker pretty well and he attended some of our baseball events. Alternative Baseball had a game in which former big leaguers played against our players and we got smoked but I did get a hit off a Josh Stinson who was a former relief pitcher for the Mets and Orioles. We are paving a pathway for everyone to be included in the national pastime through leadership and mentorship.

10. How many teams does Alternative Baseball currently have and how many States?
We have twenty-two programs in twelve states. Alternative baseball focuses on the quality of teams and creating an excellent experience over quantity. Finding the right people for leadership and coaches for the team so the players will learn and grow while having fun playing the game.

11. You shared that the baseball diamond is a safe place to learn how to navigate life, what can baseball teach people with Autism and other disabilities?
Baseball teaches people camaraderie as they experience fellowship playing the game. Life skills also develop by spending time with coaches, leaders, and mentors.

12. Share an inspirational story from your life.
We have players of all different skills levels who try different positions. People are given equal opportunities to playball. Some people you would never think could pitch or hit a homerun, end up hitting a homerun or able to pitch off the mound. Not only to accomplish a homerun or throw a pitch but to do it in the boundaries of the tradition of the sport and receive encouragement from their teammates.

13. What are some of your future goals?
We want to use not only traditional baseball to empower people but also new street form of baseball for the urban or rural communities called baseball 5. Only five fielders on the field providing a faster pace game and can play the game on concrete, wood floors, or any surface. This style would make the game more openly assailable.

14. What topics did you speak on at the Together Conference?
My first presentation Power of Support focused on the importance of developing valuable networking connections and promoting inclusion throughout and beyond the church setting. I also resented on Find Your Niche a message on the power of creativity and innovation one can have in encouraging those with disabilities to discover their God-given talents through inclusive opportunities. My final presentation was Winning While Including, this presentation focused on the collective embracement of inclusion and positive integration in the church setting. When we are called to utilize our strengths and talents in ways that please God, we create a positive church culture. God’s Winning Team requires the congregation to work together for the advancement and encouragement of creating relationships with Christ.

YouTube Interview with Taylor Duncan

Taylor Duncan Biography

Taylor Duncan, founder of Alternative Baseball®, challenges our perspective of being an athlete and community integration advocate. Since his Autism diagnosis at age 4, Taylor often wasn’t allowed to play baseball due to preconceived notions about those on the spectrum. Undeterred, Taylor improved his technique by working with some of the best in baseball. Taylor and Alternative Baseball has been featured on numerous local and national media outlets across the globe, including NBC’s TODAY, CNN/Headline News, TEDxAtlanta, the Los Angeles Times, and ESPN Baseball Tonight, among many others.

Today, Taylor’s organization is comprised of numerous programs in 12 states, also offering consultancy work to develop new programs outside of North America.
Website: https://www.alternativebaseball.org/ourstory
Alternative Baseball Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/alternativebaseball
Contact Email: nfo@alternativebaseball.org
TEDxAtlanta Videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0RGXug-WV4

Ron Sandison

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. Ron has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum was released in May 2021.

Ron frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016.

You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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