Though the scoreboard remained empty and nearly double the standard number of players occupied the field, participants of the 8th Annual Frontier Community Services World Series of Baseball exhibited enthusiasm reminiscent of professionals playing in the major leagues.
More than 80 physically and mentally disabled individuals of all ages came from Homer, Seward, Valdez and the Kenai-Soldotna area to play ball at the Kenai Little League Ball Park Saturday afternoon. Three games occurred simultaneously in the first round, with the six teams hitting, pitching, catching, and cheering in an effort that was less geared toward racking up runs than enjoying the simple pleasure of participating in an all-American pastime on an Alaskan summer day.
Krissy Norton, of Homer, was back for her third year of World Series baseball. Norton, 22, played shortstop for the Reds in a game against the Diamondbacks.
“I really like baseball and seeing the Oilers guys again,” said Norton, referring to the several members of the Peninsula Oilers baseball team who volunteered their time to hang out on the field with Norton and the other players, offering their support and suggestions.
Norton came up from Homer on Friday with a handful of other individuals and their service providers. The group is camping all weekend at Johnson Lake, recreating and soaking in the summer before it begins to slip away.
“There’s a trail where we can hike,” Norton explained, eyes wide with excitement, “and we’ve just been having a great time playing soccer and football. Just interactive games and getting ready for the (baseball) game.”
Norton’s teammate Amber Becker also came up from Homer, but only stayed for the day. Becker, 27, paid a visit to the hair spraying tent, where her short, bushy afro was doused in purple and pink hair dye and topped off with a healthy helping of silver glitter. Becker, like Norton, was also playing shortstop – one can never have too much defense.
After a lunch of hamburgers, hotdogs, salmon, salad, and other donated treats, the six teams combined to make two giant super groups to play in the second round. The field got a little crowded, but it seemed that everyone had fun all the same. The scoreboard remained resolutely empty, and no one could — or wanted to — tell who was winning or losing.
When asked if he scored a run, Reds catcher Kyle Jackson replied, “Well, I crossed home plate,” as if to clarify that there really was no scoring going on that day.
Because that’s not really the point, said Ken Duff, the executive director of Frontier Community Services.
“The biggest thing is the community,” he said, “and people with disabilities actually being out and included in what’s going on and not isolated.”
That basically summarizes the goal of Frontier Community Services, a company that provides a variety of caregiving assistance for developmentally disabled people of all ages on the central Kenai Peninsula and in Valdez.
“One thing we really have going for us down here on the Peninsula is that people...care,” Duff said. “You get into other larger communities — especially Outside, but to some degree Anchorage — and Alaska in general has included people with disabilities and has not segregated or isolated them. And events like this just kind of showcase that fact.”
Frontier Community Services board member and director of the Kenai Senior Center Rachael Craig echoed Duff’s point, saying that community integration is crucial to maintaining a “wonderful quality of life” for people with disabilities.
Local politicians came out to show their support for the event, with a trio of mayors making the first play of the game: Seward Mayor Willard Dunham pitched to batting Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche, as Kenai Mayor Pat Porter hunched behind home plate.
Alaska State Representative Kurt Olson was also present, while Representative Mike Chenault could not make it due to work conflicts. Chenault donated the hot dogs, while his counterpart donated the buns.
Local businesses such as Wells Fargo pitched in as sponsors, and over 100 volunteers came out to make the event happen. And it only gets bigger and better every year.
“I think anybody who has never participated should come out and see what goes on and offer their services and volunteer,” Craig said.