ELYRIA, Ohio — An up and coming baseball league dedicated to making America’s pastime inclusive to all is expanding to Northeast Ohio and creating a team in Lorain County with plans to begin a season by the end of this summer.
Alternative Baseball Organization (ABO) was founded in 2016 by Taylor Duncun, who is on the autism spectrum and wanted to create opportunities for baseball enthusiasts like himself who may have been denied the opportunity to play.
“I was often shorted of the same opportunities as everyone else to play traditional baseball growing up, either due to developmental delays when I was much, much younger. Or because of the negative perception of what one with autism can and cannot accomplish,” Duncan said.
Duncan took his passion for baseball and desire to make it more inclusive and turned it into ABO.
“Alternative Baseball provides an authentic baseball experience for teens and adults ages 15 years of age and older with autism and other disabilities for physical and social skills enrichment in life on and off the baseball diamond, where everyone's encouraged to be the best they could be accepted for who they are and instill confidence needed, fulfilled dreams in life on and off the baseball diamond,” Duncan said.
One of the most important aspects of ABO, Duncan said, is that the structure of the game remains the same as professional baseball leagues. There’s no special rules or treatment, giving players in the league the experience of playing the game traditionally.
Four balls is a walk, three strikes is an out and each side of an inning has three outs.
Of course, ABO is for all skill levels so there are some options for players as they develop their skills.
“We have those who hit fast overhand pitches, many who do actually, players pitch and catch behind home plate. We also have slight overhand pitching to those who are newer to the game, but need a little bit of assistance for that first time. Or they have the option to hit off of a T stand,” Duncan said.
The only modification to the game in ABO is the ball itself. The baseball used for games is larger and softer than the typical MLB baseball, meant to provide safety for all players while also accommodating all skill sets.
“In fact, really, it's so accommodative that I've thrown it against my television screen, I hit a car windshield with it, didn't break a thing,” Duncan laughed.
ABO is a league for all, making sure that everyone has a chance to take the diamond and participate in the game.
“Regardless of what disability you have, you could play. You just have to know that everyone plays the field independently. There are no buddies to assist or anything like that. It's played seven innings on the local level for most of the games with an occasional nine inning game with the possibility of extra innings if it's tied and there is no runner on second, like Major League Baseball has started,” Duncan said. “We're literally playing the traditional form of baseball that we grew up watching with, Jim Thome with Kenny Lofton. With Charlie Sheen in Major League.”
Since founding ABO in 2016, Duncan has seen the organization expand to about 88 teams in 33 different states—and the latest team is being launched right here in Northeast Ohio.
ABO comes to NEO
In Duncan’s efforts to continue expanding the league, he connected with Tyler Hatcher, who signed on to be a coach and manager in a team being launched in Elyria—the Lorain County Explorers.
Hatcher had been in Facebook groups with ABO and when he saw the efforts to bring a team to Northeast Ohio, he knew he wanted to be involved.
“I had heard he hadn’t had someone who would take charge of it and usually I don’t want to be the head guy but at the same time he didn’t have a head guy and I wanted to get the ball rolling,” Hatcher said. “So I mentioned to him and said ‘Hey, if you don’t have a head guy I guess I’ll step up.’”
Hatcher is a 21-year-old college student and running a team is all brand new to him, but he’s ready to take on the responsibility and bring ABO to Elyria.
“I’m really excited for this. Alternative Baseball Organization is awesome. Taylor Duncan is awesome,” Hatcher said. “The fact that Alternative Baseball Organization is giving people with special needs opportunities to play what I think is the greatest game on earth is just awesome to me.”
While Hatcher has never managed a team, he has plenty of baseball experience.
From 2014 to 2018, Hatcher was a batboy for the Lake Erie Crushers and worked with the Florence Y’alls in Kentucky for two years.
“I’ve always loved the game, really from birth," Hatcher said. “I know I love the game and love being around the game.”
Hatcher is looking forward to creating a genuine baseball experience for all of his players on the Explorers, making sure the local community has equal opportunity to enjoy America’s pastime.
“It's good baseball, it's good people and we're going to hopefully have a lot of fun. And of course we're trying to win,” Hatcher said.
As Alternative Baseball Organization’s newest team in Elyria begins to assemble and prepare for the season, players are joining the roster, including Cain Olejko.
Cain’s dad Chris signed him up for the league as soon as he caught word of it.
“He really loves baseball. But because being on the spectrum, his motor skills weren't advanced as most people in his age group. So I held him back from actually playing,” Chris said. “I mean, we play in our backyard and play catch and I take him to the park and everything, but he really had no outlet to do something that he really likes.”
Cain is 17 years old and is thrilled to be joining the Explorers.
“I’m most excited just to be part of the team and hopefully we can win some games,” Cain said.
Chris and Cain have been playing and watching baseball together for years and now, with ABO coming to Northeast Ohio, Cain finally gets to put his skills on the diamond.
“I've been watching baseball since I was a little kid,” Cain said. “Now since I get to actually be part of an actual team, this could be one of the things that change my life.”
Cain is ready to channel two players who he called his heroes: Corey Kluber and Carlos Santana, as he hopes to take the mound and also spend some time playing first base.
Chris has been working hard himself, scouting out fields for the Explorers to call home, fundraising and getting the community on board to not only come out and watch the games but to bring snacks and drinks for the players once the season starts.
As ABO plants its roots here in Northeast Ohio, players interested in joining the Explorers or organizers interested in starting another team in the area are welcome to reach out to the organization to get involved.
Plans for a fall season are in the works with the hope that some practices can start in July.
To learn more about Alternative Baseball Organization and the Lorain County Explorers, click here.
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