Virgen: True victory on a field of dreams

The scoreboard at Angel Stadium provided several highlights on Saturday. It wasn't because score was kept, even though there were plenty of runs scored.

Many looked at the scoreboard because of the images on the Jumbotron. There were smiles and unique actions that made many tear up. Something special always seems to occur at the Bank of America Orange County Little League Challenger Classic, a baseball event that is big-time for special-needs children.

On that Jumbotron many saw a kid who pointed his bat deep to the outfield like Babe Ruth once did. Another child moved to first base on his wheelchair guided by a buddy from a local Little League team.

Everyone who didn't play wanted to do their best for the kids to have fun. It wasn't about competition. It was just about pure fun. Just playing or participating was victory. I'm a big fan of this type of baseball.

Former Angels pitcher Jim Abbott, a Newport Beach resident, was there.

"I know what it's like to be different," said Abbott, who was born without a right hand. "I know what it's like to have to do things differently."

Abbott was one of several who volunteered throughout the day. Abbott played with the children and also delivered a message. He'll always be an all-star in my opinion.

"Coping with a challenge doesn't have to hold you back," said Abbott, speaking into a microphone while being shown on the Jumbotron. "It can push you to find the best part of yourselves. Keep fighting and keep believing. Amazing things are possible in this world. Go show everybody what you can do. OK? Have fun."

We certainly had fun. This was the first year my daughter, Trinity, was a part of the Challenger Classic. She had a blast among the 800 children who participated in the event. The children were from Challenger Divisions in Little Leagues in or near Orange County.

They all got to play in Angel Stadium. There were five "games" that took place in the outfield. The teams had an hour to play which meant at least two at-bats per kid. Krissy Land, the director of the District 62 Challenger Division, also made sure each kid made a play on defense too.

There were even cheerleaders and several volunteers from the main sponsor Bank of America who greeted the kids as they walked onto the field through a tunnel in left field.

"It's an event that has been touching, and emotional and energizing," said Sharon Battle, the Corporate Social Responsibility Market Manager at Bank of America for Orange County.

Battle said she spoke with Angels Chairman Dennis Kuhl eight years ago and they talked about an event that would impact Orange County Little Leagues. They thought the Challenger Classic would be perfect.

"We thought we can make a special field of dreams for the kids and their parents," she said. "We are now at capacity. I've seen this event grow. I've seen some of these kids grow up. It's pretty neat."

Battle said she enjoys the parents' feedback and the gratitude they show for the event. The parents tell her about how their kids couldn't get to sleep the night before.

Some parents simply just say thanks because, for some, Saturday was a rare break from watching over and directing their children.

Battle's children, Kirsten, 14, and Lauren, 12, were among the volunteers, who also included several typical Little Leaguers.

Sydni Griffin, 9, from Costa Mesa American Little League, was my daughter's buddy. Sydni is different too. She was the only girl who played among the boys in her age division for CMALL, and she made all-stars. She was an all-star again on Saturday.

Every kid was, as they all received medals during a ceremony after the games.

"It's a big deal," Newport Beach Tiger Sharks Coach David McKenna said of the event. "Today is a day when it's all about them. Most of these kids are in families with multiple children. They never really have things that are just for them because they are at other events. This is an important event for them."

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World