Atlanta, Georgia—these kids are playing baseball in the community park. They’ve lost their minds. This is winter. It’s forty outside.
They’re wearing yellow and red T-shirts, running the bases. These little athletes come in different shapes and sizes. High-schoolers, grade-schoolers, boys, girls.
One boy has an undersized leg. Another has an implanted device behind his ear. The pitcher looks like somebody’s father.
A few parents sit in the bleachers, bundled in coats. I ask a lady nearby what we’re looking at.
“Special needs team,” she says.
One coach yells, “GOOD HUSTLE!” It’s the familiar way ball-club managers have been hollering since the dawn of Cracker-Jacks.
The lady says, “We started this team for Downs kids. But other kids started asking if they could play, too.”
She points to her son who’s punching his mitt. He’s a freckled boy with Downs syndrome. The shortstop fires the ball to him. He drops it.
“GOOD HUSTLE!” comes the onslaught of shouts.
The lady goes on, “We got one player with CF, one with polio, you know, we’re open for whatever.”
Like the girl exiting the dugout. Her woven hair hangs from underneath her batter’s helmet. The lady tells me this girl has no special needs, but her middle-school coach told her she was too overweight to play.
Well, not here.
This is an inclusive group. Informal. No championships, no trophies. Only Goldfish and Gatorade.
This community baseball diamond is well-used by Little League teams during the summers. During the winters, the yellow and red shirts get to use it.
“It’s our fourth year,” she says. “It all started because a few of our boys wanted to learn baseball.”
We’re interrupted by an aluminum bat. It’s the girl. She hits a bloop to left. The ball bounces. You ought to see this child run. Her dreadlocks wave behind her. Her helmet falls off.
“GOOD HUSTLE, Adriana!” people shout.
She high-fives the second baseman.
“Lotta people call our kids disabled,” the lady says. “But do you see any helpless kids out there?”
No, ma’am. These children aren’t disabled—no more than a catfish is disabled for not being able to use the internet. These are just babes playing stickball.
Another hit. Ground double. The girl’s jogging toward third. The coach waves her home. She runs for it, closes her eyes, dives. A headfirst slide.
She leaps into the air, dusty. All the other kids swarm her. She gives them each a bear hug.
The yellow shirts win, but for the life of me, I can’t remember the score. All I can remember is how hard that girl hugged those little boys.
And how hard everyone hustled.