Their Turn

I don’t know what it’s been like for everyone else. My older brother, six years my elder, played baseball growing up, including in high school. It was a determining factor for his choice of college when the time came for that. Our mom expected him to choose a Christian, liberal arts school, but conceded that he could select one that had a baseball team. At least, that’s how I heard it.

My brother used to play catch with me. When the yard didn’t hold us, we’d play on the road, keeping an ear and an eye out for traffic that might appear in our rural location. He was understanding regarding me utter lack of hand-eye coordination and didn’t unduly torture me with fly balls or hard throws. He taught me proper throwing and catching technique, though, for which I remain grateful to this day.

He also gave me a love for the game via his admiration of the Boston Red Sox of the 1970s–players like Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, Dwight Evans, Jerry Remy, Butch Hobson, Dennis Eckersley, and more. He taught me how to play a version of “fantasy baseball” using baseball cards and dice. Once I learned it, my cousin and I played it, too. That was a lot of fun. That same cousin played baseball like my brother did–both are older than I am and both were skilled players for real. I remained a fan.

When my boys were much younger, they play Little League for our town. One year, I had the privilege of coaching their team. My knowledge of the game came from the many years of being a fan of the game. The technical coaching skills came from a cadre of assistant coaches the took on the duties of helping the team learn and play the game better. My role was more managerial and logistical. However, it was also the last year Christian was able to play organized ball until ABO came along. The speed of the game had simply outpaced his ability to react to the plays in a manner that wouldn’t impact his safety, or so he and his potential coaches feared.

I’m glad for the years he did play Little League, though, and for the coaching he received. And despite the rivalry that brothers inflict on one another at times, I’m thankful for the ways he’s learned from his more experienced–though younger–brother.  On top of all that, I’m happy that for the players of Bangor Alternative Baseball, it’s their turn.

“It was supposed to be a foul ball.”

Matt Kinney is a coach at Sluggers Indoor Baseball & Softball Training Facility in Brewer, Maine. Among the many ways he serves as a coach there, he is currently offering a baseball pitching clinic on Monday afternoons from 5 to 6pm. At the request of my younger son, I signed him up for the clinic–4 Mondays in October. However, I utterly forgot that he would be on a school trip the first Monday this month, and I was left wondering if I’d wasted that price of admission. Then, I remembered Christian.

I asked Christian if he wanted to go to a pitching clinic, and he said, “Sure.” (He’s often up for trying new things.) Of course, once the day arrived and he began to think about what ‘pitching clinic’ meant, he began to get cold feet. He thought it meant getting to play catch with Hunter the Husson student, or something like that, and he wanted to do that, but he wasn’t so sure he’d like learning other steps involved in pitching.

His brother and I convinced him that learning pitching from Major League Baseball pitcher Matt Kinney was the best person to work with, although he wasn’t entirely certain he understood what we were talking about. I tried to explain it, but Christian is a very concrete thinker, and the idea I was presenting was too abstract. “You know that game Coach Kevin keeps talking about that your team is going to play in a few weeks? Well, the guy doing the clinic tonight is one of the people that will be playing against you, and he used to pitch for the Minnesota Twins.”  Somehow, it didn’t compute.

Christian went to the clinic and was the last kid to arrive. The others had paired up with each other, and he was the odd man out, so he paired up with the Coach. I was thrilled for him; he didn’t know who the Coach was.

He enjoyed his hour, and I believe he learned more about pitching than he thought he was going to. Coach Kinney seemed pleased with Christian’s progress from start to finish. We thanked him, and before we left, I mentioned that Christian was one of the players Matt would be playing against on October 17th. Then, as we went out to the car, I brought up the connection to Christian again. “How was it working with him?”

“It was good. He was okay.”

“Okay? Just okay? Do you know who he is?”

“Uh, no. But I know there’s a coach from here that’s playing against my team in a couple weeks that used to pitch for the Minnesota Twins.”

“Yeah, Christian. THAT’s the GUY! THAT’s Matt Kinney!

His eyes opened wide in surprise and excitement. “Oh! That’s him?” He clapped his hands joyfully. “I didn’t realize that was Matt Kinney!”

All I could do was laugh. “Oh, Christian, you’re so funny.”

“Yeah. I get that a lot.”

—Fast forward to Sunday, October 17.—

In the 5th inning, Christian pitched to Matt Kinney. Matt whacked a solid double off Christian. I couldn’t tell for sure, but there seemed to be a mischievous gleam in Matt’s eyes during the at-bat, and I was dying to find out more about it. On Monday, our other son, Michael, had his pitching clinic with Matt, and he found out what had happened.

Here’s what he reported to me:

“So, Dad, I said to Coach Matt, ‘You hit a solid double off my brother Christian yesterday.’

And Matt said, ‘It was supposed to be a foul ball. I was going to foul it off, then swing and miss to strike out on the next pitch. Then I was going to throw a massive temper tantrum. It didn’t work right. I hit it solidly, so I thought, Well, the outfielders get their chance at fielding.'”

Made me laugh again. I appreciated that Michael got the full story, and that Matt Kinney had planned a good show. He’s a good guy. I have a ton of respect for him for a lot of reasons, and it’s wicked cool that both my kids have learned better pitching from him. I absolutely love that the double “was supposed to be a foul ball.”

92.9 The Ticket and I-95 Rocks (95.7) FM

On Sunday, during our game versus the Celebrity All Stars, a friend of mine by the name of Liz Leavitt, found me in the stands and came to talk with me. She was taking lots of pictures of the game and festivities, but she was also excited about an opportunity to promote Alternative Baseball a little more. She said she had a friend that worked for local radio, and that friend wanted to do a story about a story about our team that told the perspective of a player’s parent.

Being shy and retiring, I naturally said “No.” You can stop laughing now. I was very eager to tell what I knew and promote the team and the league, so I jumped at the chance, which Liz knew I would. She got my phone number and passed it along to Cori, who connected with me Monday afternoon. We talked on the phone for about 25 minutes, and she wrote her story to be published on 92.9 FM today.

I’ve used Liz’s name here because the photos in the story came from her camera, and because she’s the reason Cori and I connected for the interview to take place. It’s really just one more example of someone you know knowing someone that wants to share your exciting story with more people–isn’t that what we’ve all experienced since we first heard about Bangor Alternative Baseball?

You can find the story here:

and here:

Drawing a Crowd

One of the least-noticed components to the festivities at the Big Game between Bangor Area Celebrity All Stars and Bangor Alternative Baseball yesterday was the pre-game prayer offered by Coach Mike Vining. It was simple and brief, invoking the blessing and safekeeping of all present by the Almighty, but it was important to Coaches Mike, Kevin, and Tim that the prayer be said. All three men, in their love of baseball and teaching the sport, love God even more, and they coach and teach because of their desire to bring glory to God. He’s the one they defer thanks and praise to when we express our gratitude to them for all the work they do on our players’ behalf, because they believe that God is the one that blessed them with the skills, abilities, and gift of coaching. So, that quiet prayer before the game began was an essential acknowledgement by them of the centrality of where their hearts are, and for whom, ultimately, they coach and love our team. They love with the love shown to them by God first. It overflows from Him to them to our team. Pretty amazing, I’d say.

As fervently as they believe these things, though, they’re not going to ram their beliefs down anyone’s throats. Their beliefs are their foundation, yes, but from there they have developed the knowledge and skill required to teach and coach baseball beautifully, carefully, with compassion, enthusiasm, and precision. We saw that on display last night in spades! The excitement I’ve shared before that we families have during regular practices was magnified at our game yesterday by the crowd that was drawn to see Bangor Alternative Baseball strut its stuff! How many times did you hear someone say something like, “This is so much fun!” or “Why did we wait so long to do this?” or “It’s about time we had a team/league like this!” or anything like that?

Everyone I talked to was thrilled to have been present. One man we know that came to the game and had to leave early for a prior commitment, made the point of calling our house later in the evening to talk to our son. “You did a great job out there, Christian!” he said. “Thanks for inviting me!”

I can only imagine how many of you heard those four words after last night: “Thanks for inviting me!” With the help of countless men and women behind the scenes, we drew a crowd! We had fun!

On my way to work this morning, I flipped on the radio and heard Wayne Harvey talking about this game on 92.9 The Ticket FM on ‘The Morning Line,’ the show he hosts. He was describing to his colleagues the absolute excitement and enjoyment of the game for him and fellow All Stars like Matt Kinney, and how much they want to see ABO come to life in Maine in places like Ellsworth, Lincoln, Belfast, Waterville, Lewiston-Auburn, Portland–any place qualified coaches are willing and able to take on this opportunity, and supporters like the wonderful people in our area will support the program–as Wayne said on the radio this morning, “The question isn’t finding players; it’s finding coaches and support personnel.”

Even the residents of the correctional facility where I teach agree that it’s high time for Maine to do this. One is making the fleece hats you may have seen me modeling at practices and the game–baby blue with “B A B” on the side. He’s in the process of making enough of those for the whole team, as a donation.

Thanks so much for being part of Bangor Alternative Baseball 2021. We truly couldn’t do this without you. We’re also thankful to Taylor Duncan, the Commissioner of the Alternative Baseball Organization, for developing ABO in the first place. His struggles led to his dream of making this wonderful game accessible for teens and adults with autism and other disabilities. Like our coaches, Taylor trusts in God to help him through life, and we are grateful for his leadership to give Mike, Kevin, and Tim what they needed to start Alternative Baseball in our community!

For all the Little League, fall league, Special Olympics, and other games I’ve seen in Maine, we love to cheer on our players. We seem primed for other ABO teams to join BAB for 2022.  Spread the word! Share the excitement! Draw a crowd!

It’s the Big Day

Today was the Day of the Big Showdown between Local ‘Celebrities’ and the BANGOR ALTERNATIVE BASEBALL TEAM! BAB won, 24-2. A GREAT time was had by all. We are grateful for everyone that came out to support us today, and for the ‘many hands that made the work light.’

Taylor Duncan

Alternative Baseball originates with Taylor Duncan, the founder/CEO/commissioner of ABO. I have never met Taylor, and all I know about him comes from the various websites and social media pages that bear his or his organization’s names. I’ll quote some here, with citations of where I got my information (never plagiarize!), but since I’ll be posting the links to his sites, please take a deeper look for yourself to discover what you can about this amazing young man and the journey he traveled that led him to develop the Alternative Baseball Organization that our players get to enjoy now.

An important element in Taylor’s progress is his Christian faith. That element is also important to Coach Mike, who works with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Coach Kevin, among others involved in Bangor Alternative Baseball. Here is what Taylor has to say on his own website:

Growing up in a rural-suburban community wasn’t always easy for me. I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 4. When I was much younger, I experienced a lot of sensory issues, speech issues, and anxiety issues which kept me out of traditional sports due to a lot of those developmental delays. As I got older, I would face a lot of social stigma where I had to persevere through the perceptions of what one with autism can accomplish from both classmates and youth athletic coaches. I was often denied opportunities, cut from teams, and encouraged to quit on several occasions growing up. With the help of my Mother, teachers, mentors, and the Lord Jesus Christ, I have powered through most of those obstacles… and have POWERED THROUGH THE PERCEPTION! Accessed 10/15/2021.

You can learn more about Taylor Duncan and the Alternative Baseball Organization by visiting their respective websites:

Finally, here are the TEAMS of ABO nationwide:

Today’s Feature: The Bleacher Creature

“Take me out to the ball-game. Take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and crackerjack; I don’t care if I never get back! Let us root, root, root for the home team. If they don’t win, it’s a shame!Cuz it’s ONE! TWO! THREE! strikes, YER OUT! at the old ball game!”

A surprising element to Bangor Alternative Baseball has been the excitement of our fans for our practices. Our “Bleacher Creatures” are the parents, guardians, siblings, friends, and others that bring the players for practices and then stay to watch. It doesn’t matter to our fans whether it’s practice or a game; they like the product they’re seeing on the field, and they cheer for every player for the effort and good play.

It was evident from the very first practice that this would be a radically different experience than any we’d ever known before. For many of us, we were familiar with the idea of dropping off players and leaving coaches to ‘do their thing,’ especially if it meant we’d get two hours of ‘free time’ to run errands, have a break from responsibility for others, or whatnot. True, we might stay for the first practice just to see what goes on, but returning each week and staying on purpose?

Yup. We stay. We visit with one another, getting to know each other, asking about families and friends, developing a bond that goes beyond baseball but only came about because of baseball. And, we watch Bangor Alternative Baseball. It’s fun! It’s uplifting, encouraging, edifying. We bundle up a little more as the warmth of summer dwindles, and we take pictures or videos to share with others, and make plans for the big celebrity game coming up on September 17th.

Who are we BAB Bleacher Creatures?

Folks like these:

“Yes, we’ve liked the team Facebook page! We’re here to cheer on the team in practice!”

Hardy folk. These, and many more. Come and join us!

Just Getting Started

Most of us had never heard of “Alternative Baseball” until midsummer 2021. A couple of years earlier, though, Coaches Kevin Stevenson and Mike Vining, veterans of the Maine sports world and lifelong friends, had gotten in touch with Alternative Baseball Organization Founder Taylor Duncan ( to begin putting together the structure needed to form a team here in Bangor, Maine.

After taking the necessary steps to apply for membership with ABO, get the required background checks, and complete everything else to lay the groundwork, Kevin and Mike set about the task of advertising the new league on local television networks. In turn, other local broadcasters shared the stories on their social media pages, and families in the community heard about a wonderful opportunity for their loved ones with autism and other disabilities to finally have their shot at playing organized baseball, and they were going to play at Bangor’s vaunted Mansfield Stadium, no less.

My younger son, thirteen years old and a strapping 5’8″ 195-pounder, got to play at Mansfield last spring as part of the Holbrook-Orrington Junior (Little) League team, while his fifteen-year-old brother watched with a little bit of envy. The older boy had played some Little League a few years earlier, but his disability had prevented him from moving up with his age group. Much as he loved and followed the game, it seemed that his playing days were done.

The day I read about Alternative Baseball coming to Bangor, I nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement. I didn’t even wait to get home before signing up our older son for it! I registered him for the team, and then I told him about it. “Guess who gets to play at Mansfield Stadium this fall?” Talk about walking on Cloud 9! We’re two months into practices and that boy still hasn’t come down.

We were all a little tentative at the first practice. Controlled chaos seemed to begin the afternoon as we completed forms, introductions, and family-player-coach meetings. Then Coaches Kevin and Mike got the practice going for real, and the rest of us watched in amazement as our loved ones got to do what they’d been longing for. Baseball was upon them–and us–and we couldn’t have been happier.

The numbers of people working behind the scenes to make Bangor Alternative Baseball successful is mind-boggling, and to try to thank them by name would result in missing many. Therefore, we’ll just say, “Thank you so very, very much” to all that are making our players’ dreams come true! You know who you are.

And we’re just getting started! We want Maine to catch on to this great opportunity to give teens and adults ages 15 & up that have autism and other disabilities the chance to play organized baseball as part of ABO. Contact Coach Kevin by email: Visit our Facebook page: Let’s have fun! Just get it started!