If you were at the Soldotna Little League baseball complex Saturday afternoon, you would've heard cheering and clapping, the chatter of players, the pop of the ball in a glove and the ping of a the ball coming off the bat. You would've caught the smells of salmon, hamburgers and hot dogs wafting from the grill. You would've seen the enthusiasm of nearly 70 athletes as they took the field to enjoy America's pastime.
Indeed, it was great day to be at the ballpark.
Saturday marked Frontier Community Services' seventh annual World Series Baseball event, the goals of which are to provide an afternoon for people with developmental disabilities to enjoy an athletic activity they might not otherwise be able to do, and to raise community awareness of their abilities.
Among its many programs, Frontier Community Services offers programs for developmentally disabled people.
Lt. Gov. Craig Campbell, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch -- with Kenai Mayor Pat Porter in the batter's box, Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche catching and Borough Mayor Dave Carey calling the balls and strikes -- noted that participants had a wide range of disabilities, but were all enjoying themselves.
"We're not even thinking about their disabilities, we're thinking about having fun playing baseball," Campbell said.
Campbell said events like Saturday's World Series are especially important to him because he has an 8-year-old granddaughter with a developmental disability.
"To have the ability to participate like this gives them the ability to feel a full part of society," Campbell said.
That's an important aspect of the event, according to Frontier Community Services executive director Ken Duff.
"Part of the philosophy is that people with disabilities are just as much part of the community," Duff said. "Thirty years ago, they were put in institutions and you never saw them. Now, they're part of the community. That's the way it should be."
Rob Wilusz was back to participate after needing a couple years off for health reasons. With some help from his caregiver, Lani Brooks, Wilusz notched a single, went from first base to third base when the next batter put the ball in play, then dashed for home.
Wilusz said he likes to bat, and is a Seattle Mariners fan.
His mother, Katherine Wilusz, said the highlights of the day are getting to see friends, meeting the Peninsula Oilers baseball players who come to help out, and seeing the community involvement.
Kathy Kenner, who coordinates the event for Frontier, said community support for the event has been phenomenal.
"We have awesome sponsors. Every year, they're eager to do it," Kenner said.
Duff that said that normally, sponsors who donate $500 get their name stitched on the back of one of the teams' caps. This year, there were too many sponsors to do so.
"It shows the wonderful support this community gives," Duff said.
Nick Kvasnikoff came up from Homer to play. His favorite parts include seeing all the people and meeting new people. He likes playing catcher and batting. Helping him out was his friend and provider, Dianna Greetan.
"It's great to participate in this special day," Greetan said.
Robbie Reeves said he had a good day on the diamond, driving in three runs in his first game and scoring himself. He said he was excited to play baseball, though when asked if the baseball or the barbecue lunch was better, he gestured toward his burger.
Ryan Rogers said he was having a blast playing for the Giants, and was sure to mention that he liked the game more than the lunch. He also said the people he met were all really nice, and liked playing alongside the Oilers -- he hardly misses a home game, and has collected some autographs on his mitt.
"My favorite part is watching the Oilers help -- that is so cool," said his mother, Randi Rogers.
Many players look forward to the World Series long before the first pitch.
"My son Bob has been talking about this for a month and a half. It's more important than the Torch Run," said Sherry Gamble. "It's really a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get together, and promote athletics and sports."
Gamble, who helped start Friends of Athletes with Disabilities, a group that supports local athletes with disabilities, said she appreciated Frontier reaching out to include the entire community.
"It makes participants really feel like part of the community," Gamble said.
Raising awareness is important, Gamble said, citing her own son's experience as one reason. She said he once got lost, but people were able to help him even though they were strangers to him.
"Getting (people with disabilities) out like this, people are more willing to help out," Gamble said.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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