Taylor Duncan was diagnosed with autism at 4 years old when he began experiencing speech issues, social anxiety and stigmas associated with some of those on the autism spectrum.
“I was denied a lot of opportunities growing up,” Taylor Duncan recalled as he stood in the dugout of one of the newly renovated Duck Samford baseball fields in Auburn, Alabama.
“Either it was due to developmental delays when I was younger or the social stigma and preconceived ideas from others as I got to be much older,” he said, tapping his polished, wooden bat on the cement.
Duncan eventually found sanctuary in a sport that he believes can help bring people with autism together as both a team and a community. He sees it as a quest to overcome some of the social and physical obstructions they face everyday.
In addition to developing an extensive knowledge of baseball, Duncan said the social skills he learned while playing in high school and on various travel leagues helped give him the confidence and ability to start the Alternative Baseball League, a baseball league specifically for those with autism.
Currently, the Alternative Baseball League has about 30 different teams in 13 states from coast-to-coast, and Duncan is always working to expand the program to more locations. He is currently hoping to bring the program to Auburn by summer 2019 with the help of Evan Crawford, a former player for the Toronto Blue Jays and Auburn University.
Crawford said he wanted to get involved with the Alternative Baseball League after playing in one of their annual all-star games, when current and former baseball professionals play alongside ABL players in multiple games to raise awareness and money for the program.
“Baseball is a failure oriented game,” Crawford said.
Players learn how to turn shortcomings into improvements, just like in the “game of life,” he said.
Players must be 15 or older to join.
Duncan said players on the league are “now capable of more” and can “become more productive members of society” through what they learn on the field and through team-provided social interaction.
According to Duncan, some of the communities that the Alternative Baseball League are located in have few, if any, resources available for those with special needs or disabilities.
The program is meant to reflect the most traditional way of playing baseball — with wooden bats and many of the same rules and regulations — while still providing a safe and accepting environment for those on the autism spectrum.
One of the few adjustments of the baseball league is the larger-sized and softer ball, which is used as a safety measure.
Duncan and the Alternative Baseball League are soon to be commemorated at an upcoming Braves game for their progressive approach in providing both a social and physical outlet for those on the spectrum.
Duncan said he has also been asked to do a Tedx Talk in Atlanta in March 2019 regarding his own story and its impact on the autism community.
“We want to focus on what these kids can do, not what they can’t do,” Duncan said.