You’ve never seen so many overthrown balls, infield errors and inept base running until you attend a game when an otherwise super-star Little League team plays the Ability Angels.
But that’s reality for the Ability Angels, a team of as many as 27 players — boys and girls — from throughout the Quad-City area.
However, it’s the other team making the errors.
The Ability Angels range in age from 4 to 23. Some have trouble walking onto the baseball diamond. Sometimes they’re on crutches. Some have walkers. One even has a wheelchair. Often, a coach or a parent or maybe a teammate, can be seen showing them where to stand at home plate, how to hold a bat or where to run on the base paths.
But they all get to swing a bat. They field the ball. And they stomp on home plate.
One parent said, tears in her eyes, “This is better than going to a Major League game.”
An opposing team’s pitcher said, “This is a game I look forward to every season.” Another sturdy 6-foot shortstop reflected. “We lose every year. But don’t rub it in. This is the most fun we have all season, for we learn lessons about sportsmanship and respect for each other.”
In eight years, the Ability Angels have not lost a game. Every single player has scored a run. Best of all, they hear from fans, coaches, teammates and the other team that they are all winners.
They are coached by John Mackin. His daytime job is that of area director for Young Life West, a Christian ministry organization for adolescents.
Mackin explains the Ability Angels this way. “These kids are a part of a bigger group at the state and national level called the Challenger League by Little League officials. What is that? These are youth from 4-years-old and up who have special needs. As the name states, they face challenges.”
Even so, they play a full 10-game schedule against some of the top teams in the Prescott Little League program. They also take on the “big boys” — the Prescott Badger varsity baseball team. After that, the really “big boys” — the City of Prescott Fire Department team.
For eight years, Mackin and his volunteer assistants Craig Malone, Brian Malone, Joe Allen, Brian Rex and Michael Cruz have coached these kids to perfect seasons. They get a lot of community support. For instance, the City of Prescott Parks and Recreation department gives them baseball gloves and other equipment. Little League administrators waive all their fees and pay for their uniforms. The team sponsor is Ability, a Dewey-based organization that serves the special needs community through facilities in Dewey and Prescott.
A big perk? At the end of the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks give the Ability Angels a suite so the entire team can celebrate at a Major League Baseball game. Mackin said, “Do you know how special that makes these kids feel? They understand that somebody really does care for them.”
Perhaps ultimate support comes from the teams they play. Boys, sometimes thought of as cocky, hard-boiled and unfeeling, demonstrate compassion and sensitivity. They’ll pick up an Ability Angel who stumbled and help her toward home plate. Or they’ll help push a wheelchair down the base path. Or they’ll hand an Angel the ball, so he can tag out the opponent.
Kent Winslow, head coach of the Badger baseball team for 13 years, says it well: “My team, all really talented players, learns a lot about what it means to be human and caring. We’re all the better for it. We all win when we lose, playing the Ability Angels.”