Not everybody is afforded the same opportunities to compete and thrive in competitive sports.
Taylor Duncan, a Dallas, Ga. native, learned this unfortunate lesson early on when he was unable to participate in recreational sports because of developmental delays associated with his autism diagnosis. He had speech and anxiety issues along with other complications.
Instead of allowing future generations of those in the autistic community to deal with the same limitations, Duncan decided to do something about it. He started – and his plan is coming to Clarksville.
The Alternative Baseball Organization started in his home state with a group of six players. They wanted to raise awareness and provide a positive opportunity for others with autism. It wasn’t just about baseball either; team building, making friends and forming chemistry were at the forefront of the operation.
Word of mouth allowed the group to grow with a second and third team forming in the surrounding counties before national news organizations – ESPN, The Today Show and CNN – took notice and featured Duncan and his league.
“We got so many calls and so many emails from so many across the country, even some in Canada, wanting to start alternative baseball in their individual areas,” Duncan said.
“To me, it was still about raising awareness to acceptance, but now I realize it’s so much bigger picture than what even I thought was happening. Lo and behold, we were being marketed as a solution, as a national solution for the disability deserts out there that don’t have as many services or have no services in their communities.”
Today, there are teams in 33 states from Maine to Hawaii with more on the way. Tennessee already has squads in Chattanooga and Nashville with Clarksville marked as the next destination. Teams are made up of players aged 15-and-up with no maximum limit. Games are played in a traditional “travel” setting, though players can opt to just play scrimmages with teammates at home if they choose.
The league’s rules are a replica of the MLB with one change – the ball used is slightly larger and significantly softer to accommodate players of all skill levels.
“We play just like the Nashville Sounds do without the expensive stadium,” Duncan said. “I like to say that, but even though we can’t offer players multi-million-dollar contracts… You will get an experience that’s truly priceless.”
Clarksville’s team will be built from the ground-up, starting with finding a manager. Anybody can apply to manage the team and will have equipment provided. From there, players and a playing venue will be selected. The first year will be spent mostly on practicing to get everybody up to speed with the game and comfortable with one another.
Other volunteer positions are also open, along with umpire spots.
“We’re all encouraged to be the best we can possibly be and accepted for who we are,” Duncan said. “The sky is the limit as to what we can all accomplish together as a society. Really, anything that anyone can do whether it be through donations or signing up to volunteer or signing up to participate not only in Clarksville but really anywhere, we truly appreciate any help we can get.”
Rosters typically take up to six months to fill out before the ball gets rolling. Duncan and ABO hope to have the Clarksville team started in early summer. Volunteers and players can find more information at alternativebaseball.com.