Bishop Scharfenberger
Bishop Scharfenberger
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One reason I eschew name-dropping is that I might leave someone out. Names are important. It was so good to see the names on the backs of the baseball shirts of every one of the 57 happy participants in the baseball workshop in Doubleday Field (Cooperstown) last Sunday. They weren’t the only ones with big names!

Some say baseball got started in that major-league sized field. It’s big alright. But somehow on Sunday, the atmosphere seemed to be so much kinder and gentler than the raucous rivalry of your typical ballpark outing. Not that old rivals were absent. Among the baseball greats who came to coach were the likes of Tom Carroll, Gary Holle, Clint Hurdle, Dickie Noles, David Palmer and Jason Phillips. You can look up their career stats, but these greats are not looking at their past. They came to Cooperstown to really dream big. As one of Sunday’s coaches (pitcher Tom Carroll) said: “This is the real field of dreams!”

What was so special about last Sunday? Well, the short answer is, everyone. People who are frequently singled out as “different” or “handicapped” were playing on the same field as those who are often considered “exceptional” for other reasons. Let me explain. The people who came to the clinic were all residents of a certain Pathfinder Village in Edmeston, New York. In their own words, “an internationally renowned open-access neighborhood where individuals with Down syndrome and developmental disabilities make lasting friendships, learn about community, and gain independence. It’s a gracious and pristine environment where your loved one will experience the joy of belonging” (www.pathfindervillage.org).

That’s right. This special event was a joyous gathering of the developmentally “disabled,” offering them a chance to have the same kind of fun any kid would have surrounded by professional major leaguers who wanted nothing more than to share their time with those who are often left out of the fun.

None of this would have happened without the initiative and planning of an organization called “Baseball Miracles” which provides baseball clinics for underprivileged children (www.baseballmiracles.org). Many professional players volunteer for this mission. A good friend of mine, Doctor Joseph Dutkowsky, who has spent much of his medical practice tending to handicapped children, was introduced to the organization a little over a year ago when he was looking for a way to bring together the resources of baseball professionals and handicapped people as he had done with professional dancers at the New York City Ballet.

Something almost magical happens when people with great talent meet with those whom the world often casts aside and into the margins because of their differentness or disability. The barrier between “us” and “them” dissolves. One dancer described her experience of working with the handicapped in a Saturday morning dancing clinic as being in a judgment-free zone. She explained how a professional is always being judged, by management, by the public, by themselves. Professional dancers and athletes are always forced to focus on their performance. In the presence of the handicapped, there is not judgment. They are free to give without cost or judgment.

It was hard to tell last Sunday who was having more fun. I saw the joy on the faces of the eager folks from Pathfinder Village, but I could not say that their staff and counselors were any less engaged in this wonderful celebration of life. And the professional athletes themselves echoed Tom Carroll’s words that this was indeed the real field of dreams.

In a world where we have experienced so much polarization of “us” versus “them” on so many levels, this was a celebration of our common humanity and joy that comes when we welcome all human beings to the family table. I will never forget the joy on the faces of so many on that field, whether in the batting cages, the pitcher’s mound or the outfield, as everyone took their chance at being a part of this incredible celebration.

“We have a lot of people here that most people don’t give a second thought to,” said Dr. Dutkowsky, “but here they are playing with the elites. You’ve got a guy on this field today who threw a no-hitter in David Palmer for the Expos. You’ve got two guys with World Series rings, including Tom Carroll, who got his start throwing to Johnny Bench. You’ve got a guy like Clint Hurdle who managed two major league teams. And they are all here today, volunteering their time, teaching and making memories. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

I could not agree more. Many of these special moments which brought tears to many eyes have been captured by photographers on the scene, notably Rick Guidotti (www.positiveexposure.org), which I share on these pages and on our website (evangelist.org). But what is implanted now in my mind and heart — indeed my soul — are memories I will treasure for life. I wish I could thank every person by name who was part of this wonderful event. I know that there was much joy in heaven in experiencing the richness of humanity at its best, in all its varying expressions, each person a treasure to a God who smiles. 

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