After exhibiting an array of speech, sensory and anxiety complications along with other developmental delays, Taylor Duncan was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 4.
“It kept me out of being able to participate in the same traditional sports opportunities as everyone else,” he said.
Despite his developmental delays, Duncan said social stigmas were the biggest obstacle in his search for opportunities. Duncan attributed his ability to overcome those obstacles to the help of his parents, teachers and mentors.
“They taught me much more than what wins, losses and statistics could show,” he said.
Duncan said their encouragement had an impact on how he approaches life.
“They told me pretty much anything that I wanted to go out and try to achieve I was capable of achieving if I put enough hard work into it,” he said. “That’s pretty much my whole mentality for years … When somebody told me that I couldn’t do something, I’d work as hard as I possibly could, even if I had to work three times as hard as everybody else.”
Duncan’s own positive experiences inspired him to begin creating a safe place for others, he said. His goal was to target those who are unable to put in the time and finances to travel far away and instead give them a community where they are.
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Duncan recalled many others like himself “don’t feel like they have anything in their area to their individual needs.”
At the same time, Duncan wanted to raise awareness and erase the stigma around autism. Once people with special needs graduate high school, there are little to no services on the state level, he said.
Duncan said the services that do exist are vastly underfunded and fail to fulfill the needs of the whole spectrum.
“The spectrum is so wide that it is impossible to cover all of it,” he said.
Thus, Alternative Baseball was born. What began in 2016 in a small suburb of Cobb County, Georgia, soon spread across the country. By the end of their second year, they were able to fill two baseball teams.
“I call it an experience rather than a league,” Duncan said. “It’s about building teamwork skills, building team chemistry, learning how to work together as a team … and it’s about building perseverance.”
Major networks, such as ESPN, CNN and Sports Illustrated reached out to Duncan to do segments for their shows.
“That’s when I realized,” he said. “When we got so much interest from across the country, it wasn’t just going to be a solution for the stigma, instead, it was going to provide an opportunity and outlet for those that wouldn’t otherwise have the outlet.”
Alternative Baseball follows the traditional rules of Major League Baseball. They use the same bats, as well. The only adaptation is slightly larger and softer baseballs.
Before the pandemic, the organization had 20 teams. Now, they have more than tripled that at 70 teams across the country, ranging from Hawaii to Maine. Currently, Duncan is also working on their trademark registration in Canada and is in contact with a group in Japan.
Now, Alternative Baseball is coming to Auburn.
Evan Crawford, retired pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, recently participated in one of their All-Star games where the Alternative Baseball players played against the pros. After seeing their team in action, Crawford wanted to bring the same thing to the Lee County area.
“Right now, we are trying to build the one in Auburn back up,” Duncan said.
Though Crawford was planning to help, COVID has kept Duncan in his home since March 2020. In addition, their teams were not able to meet this past year due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
In Auburn and Opelika, Alternative Baseball is looking for more players and more volunteers. They are hoping to start back in the late spring or early summer with a sign-up form on their website.
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