TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was an overcast day when Alabama baseball took to the field on Sept. 18. On the road for the first time this fall, the Crimson Tide underwent its first away game since returning to campus this semester.
This wasn’t any ordinary game, though.
As the players wearing crimson practice jerseys passed through the chain-link fence onto an all-turf field, smiles and laughter greeted them. The smiles did not come from opponents, though. In fact, there were no opponents on the field at all. The smiles came from the faces of their buddies for the day — children of the Miracle League of Tuscaloosa.
The Miracle League is a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving children and adults with disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism and cerebral palsy the ability to play baseball.
“Miracle League baseball is all about having fun,” the organization’s website reads. “Every player has a Buddy who helps them bat, run the bases and play in the outfield. Most importantly, they provide encouragement and friendship. We have noncompetitive games where everybody plays and everybody wins.”
For the players of Alabama baseball and their new buddies, it was an experience that neither will soon forget.
The players were paired off with their respective buddy for the day. A player accompanied each child at the plate, rounding the bases as well as while fielding. For players like outfielder/designated hitter Owen Diodati and center fielder Caden Rose, the experience provided both with some perspective.
“It’s a really special and humbling experience to be out there with them,” Diodati said. “I don’t think anyone really wasn’t excited to be out there, especially when we got there. Cheering for those kids and being excited and enthusiastic just comes really naturally because their energy is so high and it’s so easy to match it. It’s a really special experience and those kids deserve to play just like any other kid — they can play just like any other kid. So it was a really cool experience and every single one of us loved it.”
As each buddy hit the baseball, smiles and laughter were never in short supply. For the children, it was an opportunity to play a sport that they love and that average kids often take for granted. For the members of the Crimson Tide, it was an experience that helped them realize just how lucky they are to have talents to play at the college level.
“Oh it’s awesome,” Rose said. “Every time you do something like that, it’s so humbling. You don’t realize how blessed you are. The worst day that you have here, that’s one of their best days. You can’t even compare. So it really puts into perspective and we think we have it hard sometimes but it’s really nothing like what they go through.”
While head coach Brad Bohannon wasn’t able to attend this year’s get-together with the Miracle League, it’s an opportunity that he arranges year-in and year-out for his team. Bohannon has always placed a large emphasis on team chemistry and culture, with a large part of that culture being built through serving the community.
“One of the cool parts of coaching at the college level is you have the opportunity to help the kids grow personally,” Bohannon said. “I think we’re all moldable at the college age and I really want our kids to be well-rounded. I mean, if they leave here and they’re just a better baseball player, I don’t think I did my job. It’s hard to quantify but I really believe that if you help kids grow as people and mature, it bleeds over into the baseball field in some way, shape or form.
“I think these types of experiences are part of being a head coach at the college level and there’s no doubt in my mind that making sure that our kids are not entitled and they’re thankful for everything that they have and everything they receive and for the people that support them that it’s going to make our team better somehow.”
While the experience lasted just an afternoon on a cloudy September Saturday, the memories created for both Alabama baseball and their buddies will last a lifetime.
For players like Diodati, his experience with the Miracle League served as a reminder of how blessed he is to have the ability to play baseball at the college level and provided some perspective on how he can use those talents to give back to the community.
“I think sometimes we forget how fortunate we are to be able to do what we do and any one of those kids would probably — they dream of an opportunity like that so it’s humbling just to be out there and realize just how fortunate we are to be a part of the team we are,” Diodati said. “Just how fortunate we are to be able to go out there and work with them because it’s obviously really special and the relationships that we form with those kids are really special, too.”
Gallery: Alabama Baseball Visits Miracle League
Photos courtesy of Alabama Athletics Photography