Jacob Dotomain couldn't contain his smile as he and a co-runner rounded the bases Saturday at the Soldotna Little League Fields.
The combination of cheering teammates, hi-fives from members of the Peninsula Oilers scattered throughout the infield and the comical fumbling of a baseball ensuring his safety seemed to influence the Seward resident into grinning from first base all the way to his first home run of the day.
Dotomain joined more than 80 other special needs players and about the same number of volunteers for food, face-painting, and baseball during Frontier Community Services' Ninth Annual World Series Baseball Event in Soldotna.
"Part of why we do this and continue to do this is community awareness, but that isn't why we started it," said Ken Duff, executive director of Frontier Community Services. "It was just to come out and have a fun day and give people that typically don't have the opportunity to come out and play, play the game. There's no outs, everybody gets around the bases, everybody gets the chance to bat everybody gets to be in the field; that's what it's about."
Volunteers were available at every turn running for or with players, shouting encouragement, serving food, decorating hair and painting faces or just keeping players company.
Duff said he's not amazed when he sees the number of people willing to lend a hand because it has been consistent since the event was conceived.
"We have people who really aren't necessarily identified as volunteers that show up and say, ‘Hey, what can I do?’” Duff said. "We really have very little, if any, funds that we, Frontier Community Services, puts in. It's all donations from people all over the community."
Athletes from all over Alaska take part in the event and this year an international athlete played as well.
Lilly Mullen, 14, of Galway, Ireland wasn't familiar with baseball before she visited Alaska and had the chance to play.
Mullen said she hit the ball "really hard" and made a home run.
When asked if she wanted to play again she nodded emphatically, ‘Yes.’
Megan LaCross, one of Mullen's companions for the day, said it was her first time seeing the local World Series event.
"I heard about it and thought, ‘Oh, what a good thing to do together,’” LaCross said.
She wasn't disappointed.
"Lily was awesome," LaCross said. "When she was in the outfield she knew just want to do, she raced after that ball and picked it up and tossed it back. It was great."
LaCross said that as part of Mullen's training, the 14-year-old attended an Oilers game a few days prior so she could find out how to play.
Each year Frontier Community Services teams up with the Little League to put on the event which Duff said had moved beyond just being a way to provide rare opportunities to special needs youth and adults in the area.
"What has really kind of evolved, I think, from that ... is that it has really become an event that showcases people with disabilities being able to be like everyone else and celebrating abilities as opposed to disabilities," Duff said.
For the athletes, Duff said the impact seems to be more on social skills.
“It’s being able to be involved and engaged,” Duff said. “We have one individual that’s here (he's) severely autistic, been in an institution, and he’s here today playing. You’d have never thought that five years ago, but that’s something that because of the support we give him but we figure he can (do) so he does," Duff said. "Using the idea of somebody that's autistic. They're not exactly the most social individuals ... so somebody with severe autism in particular just being able to be around this many people is amazing."
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org