ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A new baseball experience for teens and young adults with special needs will be starting in Rochester this spring. The local chapter of Alternative Baseball hopes to create an environment where players on the autism spectrum can be themselves, while bonding with others.
Originally founded in Dallas, Georgia by a young man on the spectrum, the program has spread across the country — including right here in Rochester, thanks to local man Brian O’Keefe.
“I played [baseball] my entire life, long before I knew that I was autistic myself,” he said. O’Keefe believes that creating a space where neurodivergent people can play baseball allows for the chance to socialize, learn new skills, and have something in common with players both on and off the spectrum.
“Baseball is a sport that is all about resilience, overcoming failure,” he explained. “In the majors, if you succeed three out of ten times, you might be going to the hall of fame.”
The organization is still in the early stages — they have a handful of kids signed up, and are still dotting the i’s on some state paperwork to get the local nonprofit going. O’Keefe said their goal for this spring is to get at least one solid team.
The game generally works the same way as regular baseball, but with a “slightly safer” ball, O’Keefe said. There may not be as much of a competitive edge — no pitch clocks, for example — but participants are expected to be able to stand on their own, follow the rules, and work together to win.
“It gives autistic people a lot more in common with people who are not autistic,” he said. “You know there are a lot of baseball fans out there, and to be able to talk about the game out there or just the sport in general.”
Right now, the group is for ages 15 and up only. To learn more about Alternative Baseball, to sign up, or to volunteer, visit their national website, or reach out to Rochesteralternativebaseball@gmail.com.