Article Updated May 19th 2022
Baseball is the air Taylor Duncan breathes. It’s the unpredictability and fast pace that has kept him stuck like glue to the sport since his earliest years, either in the stands or from home plate. Coaches didn’t put Taylor Duncan on their rosters, but he kept pushing and pushing.
Duncan, is now the commissioner for Alternative Baseball, a year-round league for those on the autism spectrum and with other disabilities, inspired by the hurdles he faced when he was diagnosed with autism at 4 years of age. Many with disabilities lose the chance to compete aside from a few opportunities throughout their lives.
What is Alternative Baseball?
Alternative Baseball, which is forming a team in Loudoun County, gives the chance for those 15 and older who have the same passion for baseball to play it organized and without judgment.
Teams play with similar rules to Major League Baseball, the main differences being that there’s one bat and a larger and softer ball. Everybody plays on a traditional dirt and grass field with nine innings and there are regular practices during the week.
The league, which originated in Georgia, made its way nationwide to states like Virginia, New Jersey and Colorado after Duncan was featured on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.” Many reached out to him asking to form teams and to engage with the community.
“Baseball is my passion,” Duncan says. “I learned a lot that has gotten me to where I am with the physical and social skills. Something as simple as calling a ball in the outfield – ‘I got it! I got it!’ – teaches communication skills, and it helps build teamwork.”
Duncan says one major obstacle is encouraging players to join, since many never had the opportunity to compete growing up. How he encourages others to play and engage, he says, is by showing how it is a rewarding experience to see many play and succeed. He identifies closely with the players with autism; therefore, he helps others by improving their play and accommodating their style.
“Once these players graduate high school, they often have nothing,” Duncan says. “It’s basically sink-or-swim from then on. My program seeks to change that ideal, to ensure that they have something for the rest of their lives.”
A Place for Life
The league has no age limit to ensure that everyone young and old can enjoy the competition throughout their lives. Duncan describes one player who’s almost 60, “and he bats like Julio Franco,” saying that the two have similar batting stances.
A personality Duncan looks up to is Ichiro Suzuki, who rose to stardom playing for the Seattle Mariners. Suzuki came from Japan to the U.S., and many criticized his background due to a negative perception of his play style from the Japanese league. Despite that, Duncan says Suzuki’s critics never got to his head and he kept playing in his own style. Today, he’s heralded as one of the most successful international players in MLB history.
Duncan says Suzuki’s story taught him to never give up.
“If there’s something that I want out there, believe me, I want to try to get it,” Duncan says. “I’m not a guy who succumbs to the lack of opportunities … and I don’t let anyone stop me from that.”
Duncan says he aims to continue expanding Alternative Baseball all over the country. He wants all communities to allow players to have an opportunity to find acceptance and encouragement in order to fulfill their goals, achieve their dreams and make a positive impact.