Part two of two
By LINDA MESSMER
Tyler Alsip was born with cerebral palsy 16 years ago. Though his cognitive level is about that of a 2-year-old, Tyler understands most of what is said to him. He can't speak well but can make his feelings known. Love and compassion have guided Tyler's life.
Tyler was very disappointed one night when an assistant coach, Kirk Smith, couldn't fulfill an offer to pitch to him after a game. With permission from his parents, Vicki and Reggie Sluder, Tyler was asked to be a member of that coach's 9- to12-year-old boys major division Pepsi team in the Clay City Youth League.
He would get a uniform and helmet and sit in the dugout during the game. When it was over the team would take the field and Tyler would bat.
When Kirk told the boys they immediately and enthusiastically welcomed Tyler to the team, showing maturity and compassion beyond their years. They agreed to allow Tyler to round all of the bases and score a home run.
Although Tyler didn't understand the intricacies of the game, he knew the boys were trying to hit the ball with a bat and when they did they got to run to the bases.
He understood that if they touched all the bases without stopping, they called it a home run and everybody yelled and cheered and was happy.
When a teammate batted, Tyler clapped and made encouraging sounds and tapped the shoulder or gave high fives to whomever sat next to him like he saw the other boys do. The boys accepted him. Tyler was truly a part of the team and he loved it.
After Tyler joined the league, the boys on
the Pepsi team took the field following their game. The other team stayed and sat in the bleachers to watch. A baseball was placed on a Tee at home plate. Tyler was handed a bat and told to hit the ball.
It took a few swings but he finally connected and hit it hard toward the shortstop. Kirk, who was standing in the pitcher's position, yelled for Tyler to run.
Tyler dropped the bat and took off. Kirk ran right along beside him, encouraging him on. The shortstop reached down for the ball but it rolled under his mitt into shallow left center field. Tyler reached first but, true to his nature, instead of continuing on to second, he stopped and hugged the first baseman.
"Come on Tyler," Kirk yelled excitedly. "Go to second."
And Tyler took off again. The left fielder came up, retrieved the ball and threw to second base. The throw was high, however, and the ball ended up near the right field fence in foul territory. As the right fielder ran to the ball, Tyler stopped and hugged the second baseman.
Told to continue on, Tyler took a detour and hugged the shortstop, grinning and clapping as he ran. As the right fielder grabbed the ball, Tyler was on his way to third. The fielder threw to his cutoff, the second baseman. Thrown high, the baseman jumped but just got his glove on the ball and it dropped at his feet behind him. He circled about searching for the ball as Tyler stopped and hugged the third baseman.
The second baseman finally found the ball then, committing a cardinal baseball sin, he threw behind the runner hurling the ball to third base as Tyler headed for home.
The third baseman missed the ball and it rolled to the fence. He quickly retrieved it and threw toward home. But the ball sailed over the catcher's head as Tyler stepped on home plate and hugged his teammate.
Laughing and yelling and stomping his feet up and down, he high fived the other teammates who charged toward Tyler to congratulate him.
The other team and remaining spectators cheered for the happy little boy who had hit his first home run.
At each following game, before Tyler came to the plate, Kirk would introduce him using a bullhorn.
"Now batting for Pepsi is number 12, the Clay City Youth League home run champion, Tyler Alsip."
And Kirk retired the batting tee. He pitched to Tyler. It took a while and maybe the coach just hit the bat, but eventually Tyler would connect and take off on his home run trot.
After the third game the opposing teams, who had stayed each time to cheer for Tyler, asked if they could field for him. So the opponents fielded for the home run champion and Tyler's teammates sat in the bleachers to cheer him on.
The girls softball teams started coming by after their games to watch Tyler. Pepsi's head coach, Lon Rector, who is a pastor, talked about Tyler at church and many of the congregation came to the park. It seemed like the whole town of Clay City wanted to see Tyler Alsip hit a home run.
Tyler had to miss one game. He wasn't feeling well and his mom said he needed to stay home. The next day, feeling better, Tyler and his family went to the park. On four different occasions one of his teammates came up to him, each basically giving the same message.
"Tyler, where were you last night, Buddy? We lost our game. We needed you there."
Tyler showed sadness for letting his friends down. But he was overjoyed that the boys wanted him there and missed him.
When the regular season was over, the tournament began. Pepsi advanced to the championship game with Pipes Pistols, but they lost and had to settle for runner-up.
After the game all of Pepsi's boys and about half of Pipe's Pistols went out in the field to let Tyler bat. As he rounded the bases, the entire crowd stood and cheered.
Usually when a team loses the championship game, the players are down. Even though a trophy comes with it, second place is a big disappointment. But not this magical night. This night everyone went home feeling like a winner.