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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Home Run King

Monday, September 29, 2003



It's not known for sure if love and compassion are innate emotional traits or if they're learned behavior. What is known for sure is that Tyler Alsip loves baseball and his young teammates are very compassionate kids.

Tyler was born with cerebral palsy, which rendered him challenged both physically and mentally. His mother, Vicki Sluder, said Tyler's cognitive abilities are at about a 2-year-old level.

The 16-year-old has endured many surgeries to improve his ability to ambulate. But he still has coordination problems which give him a slow, awkward gait.

When requested to do a chore, Tyler cheerfully and vigorously tries to complete the task. Highly emotional, Tyler is usually either very happy or visibly upset.

The North Clay Middle School student attends Mrs. Hoffa's Moderately Mentally Handicapped class. He puts in a full day, boarding the bus each morning at 7:10 a.m. and returning home about four o'clock.

Tyler seems to comprehend most of what he hears but it's difficult for him to communicate back. Due to his coordination problems from CP he can't write or do sign language. And his limited vocabulary is very hard to understand. But he has no problem communicating his emotions and feelings about what he likes.

Tyler's quite the social butterfly and enjoys being with other people. He likes playing cards. Kings in the Corner is his favorite. He likes money, change. The value of the coins doesn't matter. He likes going to Benwood Mt. Lebanon Church. He likes eating out, especially at the A&W Restaurant in Clay City.

And Tyler loves baseball. His sister, Ashlyn, 15, played on a softball team this summer in the Clay City Youth League program at Goshorn Park.

Tyler attended all of Ashlyn's games with his mom and step-dad, Vicki and Reggie Sluder. Highly interested and involved in their daughter's activities, they were usually the first to arrive and the last to leave.

After Ashlyn's games they frequently walked the short distance to the boys' baseball diamond to see if a game was still playing. After the last game, the Sluders would hang around talking to other parents and kids.

One evening, after the games were over, the Sluders were chatting with Kirk Smith, the assistant coach for the boy's Pepsi team. He helped with the boys major division for kids 9-12.

Kirk was a warm, friendly man who loved kids. His 9-year-old son, Kole, was on the Pepsi team. And he coached 6-year-old Trevor in tee ball. Kirk glanced at Tyler, who was standing nearby.

Fidgeting a little, Tyler watched the adults converse and tried to observe patiently. Spontaneously, Kirk asked Tyler if he'd like to have some balls pitched to him.

His answer was obvious as the boy grinned, clapped his hands, nodded his head up and down while making verbal sounds in an attempt to convey his consent.

Kirk then realized everyone else had left the park. And so had all of the equipment. His sons had gone on home with their mother.

"I'm sorry Tyler," Kirk apologized. "There's no ball and bat here now."

Seeing Tyler's deep disappointment, Kirk said, "Tell you what, buddy. I'll throw you some balls after the next game, OK?"

Kirk felt bad about disappointing Tyler. He wished the boy could play on a team. But it was always difficult to get men out to coach little league under the best of conditions. Most coaches wouldn't want to work with a handicapped child, especially one with Tyler's limitations.

Even though he understood, Kirk sympathized with those kids. They never got a chance to play. Never had an opportunity to be a part of a team. They were relegated to be spectators. They could only stand back, alone, watch the other kids play together, and dream.

Kirk vowed it would be different for Tyler. Before the next game Tyler would be a part of his team. There were seven games left including the tourney. He got the OK from Tyler's parents and rounded up a uniform and helmet.

At the next practice Kirk told his team about their new member. They all knew who Tyler was. Clay City is a small, close knit community. The boys had seen Tyler in town or at the park.

The coach told the boys Tyler would wear a uniform and sit in the dugout with them during the games. After their game was over, Tyler would get to bat and the team would field for him.

The boys accepted the idea immediately. They were very enthusiastic and agreed to let Tyler hit a home run after each game. Kirk told them to throw the ball as if trying to get him out but to make sure they did not hit Tyler.

When Tyler was told he was on a baseball team, he was ecstatic. He could hardly wait for his first game.

Monday: Tyler Alsip becomes the home run king.

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