The Sports Report: Baseball can be a comfort to those with Alzheimer’s

Jon Leonoudakis pitches to Stephen Dolainski, a friend of an Alzheimer’s patient, during a meeting in Los Angeles held by BasebALZ.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Howdy, my name is Houston Mitchell and don’t pay attention to most of the critics. “The Lion King” is a fun, enjoyable movie.


Bill Plaschke wrote a wonderful column over the weekend on how baseball helps people battling Alzheimer’s and dementia. Here’s an excerpt.


“It starts with a baseball.

“Each person who attends the monthly BasebALZ program in a conference room at the offices of Alzheimer’s Los Angeles is handed one, faded and scuffed.

“For the next two hours, those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia will hold that baseball.

“Some will clutch it tightly as they listen to stories about former baseball greats. Others will roll it around in their palms as they watch presentations about baseball’s historic moments. At some point, they will be asked to reach back into their own baseball history.

“Through the magic of those 108 stitches, they will remember.

“My friends and I lived near each other, we’d play together,” Al Hassan, 82, says with a grin. “I wasn’t very good, I played way out in the field. There was a little creek they put me near in case I had to jump in the water. It happened three or four times. I think they were agitating me!”

“It’s a bright Friday morning, and Hassan laughs, and across the table, Dolores Jones, 89, soon joins him.

“There was this St. Louis pitcher, I would stay up late to watch him on TV,” she says with a grin. “He put his cap low; it was scary for hitters . They’re looking for his eyes, they’d let a pitch go by.”

“Jon Leonoudakis, the meeting facilitator dressed in a gold vintage Pittsburgh Pirates jersey and cap, jumps in.

“Oh, you’re talking about Bob Gibson,” he says, pausing, then raising his voice in wonder. “And did you know he wore glasses?”

“The room instantly buzzes with oohs and aahs and lights in eyes that have been growing dim. Baseball has done it again. Baseball has wrapped its arms around unsettled souls and taken them out to the ballgame.

“Watching what happens here is like watching people come to life,” says Anne Oh, manager of support groups and activity programs for ALZLA.

“Even in a summer when the major leagues’ best team plays at Dodger Stadium and its best player plays at Angel Stadium, nowhere is the power of baseball in Los Angeles better illustrated than on the fourth floor of this mid-Wilshire office building.

“Led by members of the Los Angeles chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research, a group of as many seven dementia patients and their companion caregivers participates in what is known as baseball reminiscence therapy.

“In sessions designed to elicit moments of clarity through a century-old connection with the national pastime, participants talk ball, sing ball, and even play a little ball.

“According to their caretakers, it is the first time some of them have engaged in weeks. From talk of Little League to thoughts of autograph chases, delving deep into poignant childhood memories, there is something about the ancient sport that rustles the mind.

”Baseball is a game of storytelling; it’s the heart and soul of the sport. Everyone has baseball stories, everyone has baseball memories,” says Leonoudakis, 61, a producer who brought the program here after hearing about its success in the Central/South Texas SABR chapter. “These people grew up during the game’s golden age, so it seems like such a natural fit.”

“Oh, whose office also hosts therapeutic programs involving art, music, gardening and dance, says baseball touches a nerve.

“It brings them to the present,” she says. “Individuals with dementia are often just home and not engaging in conversation, not being stimulated with activities. When they come here, it stirs up strong memories they have not thought about for a long time. It opens them up. It’s real and important socialization.”

“It starts with a baseball, but officially begins with a song. On this Friday, after Leonoudakis passes out baseballs from a plastic grocery bag — they’re remnants from his youth league coaching days — he pulls out a guitar and everyone stands up.

“Because of the usual last-minute cancellations, and because the innovative program has been around only a year and still is gaining traction, there are only three participants today. But, along with their caregivers, they sing the national anthem like they are a group of 30,000.

“Play ball!” Leonoudakis finally shouts, marking the beginning of what is essentially an admission-free day at an imaginary ballpark.

“Then there are stories, plenty of stories, with this week’s tales focused on legendary Negro Leagues pitcher Chet Brewer and that wonderful Pasadena historical institution known as The Baseball Reliquary.

“But the best tales come from the participants themselves, spurred by a Leonoudakis question.

“When you hold that baseball in your hands, what does your heart and soul say?” he asks.

Hassan says, “Watch me, I throw pretty good.”

“Jones says, “I haven’t been to a baseball game in a long time. I wanted to come here to see what it was like.”

More baseball:

Matt Thaiss hits walk-off home run as Angels avoid being swept by Orioles

Walker Buehler gets little help from defense in Dodgers’ loss to Nationals

Dodgers secretive about injury that will put Kiké Hernandez on injured list


Jeff Miller with a special story on Chargers coach Anthony Lynn:

“On a trip to Africa this summer — a journey that required nearly 20 hours in the air — Anthony Lynn did what coaches do whenever they have time.

“He worried about his team.

“Lynn dissected the Chargers’ roster over and over, checking to see where improvement was needed.

“Coming home, he found himself worrying a little less.

“I was like, man, we got all we need,” Lynn said. “We got all we need. Let’s just get this thing done. I had a little different perspective.”

“Seeing things he’d never seen before altered the way Lynn sees everything.

“He spent a week and a half in northern Tanzania, calling it “definitely a game-changer,” in what Lynn described as “the bush,” opening a school his foundation helped fund.

“It was a very impactful experience both ways,” he said. “They were grateful for what we were doing for them, and we were grateful for just being in their presence. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a group of people that has done more with less.”

“The facility, which houses kindergarten through third grade, is the first school for many of the 350 or so children attending.

“In fact, the opening was delayed a day because — communicating through interpreters — Lynn had to convince the adults that their kids would be better off seeking an education than going to work.

“Little kids there … everyone’s working,” he said. “I mean, they’re all employees. With sticks, cattle-herding and goat-herding. Stuff like that. The people were worried about who was going to do all the work that needs to be done each day.

“We finally got enough buy-in to open the school. I think when they actually saw the kids come to school and the joy those kids showed from sitting in a classroom, sitting at a desk, then they just fell in love with the place.”

“Shortly after he arrived in Tanzania, Lynn was told that the plan was to begin each school day at 10 a.m.

“The time sounded a little late to a football lifer, one so disciplined that he re-committed himself to finishing his college degree and walked in a commencement ceremony at Nevada-Las Vegas last spring at age 49.

“Lynn suggested that opening at least a couple hours sooner each day would be more appropriate. That’s when he was told the lions feed from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m.

“These kids aren’t down the street or around the block,” Lynn said. “They’re walking two and three miles to get to school. Little ones. When I heard that, I said, ‘If you want to open it up at noon, I don’t care.’

“That was crazy. Just stuff like that that you don’t think about. I was scared to death half the time, just being in that environment they’re in every day. There are no street lights. When it’s dark, it’s pitch black. You always wonder what’s watching you. You’re out there with wild animals. You’re out there with some big cats. Not little cats, big cats.”

Sports poll

We asked you “Which of the following Dodgers do you think deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame? You can vote for as many as you like: Steve Garvey, Orel Hershiser, Gil Hodges, Don Newcombe, Fernando Valenzuela, Maury Wills.” The results, after 11,166 ballots:

Gil Hodges, named on 96.9% of ballots

Maury Wills, 76.4%

Don Newcombe, 66.4%

Fernando Valenzuela, 51.6%

Orel Hershiser, 39.6%

Steve Garvey, 36.8%.

Your favorite sports moment

What is your favorite all-time L.A. sports moment? Click here to tell me what it is and why, and I’ll start running them in future newsletters. And yes, if your favorite moment is about the Angels or Ducks or a team just outside of L.A., I’ll count that too. And the moment doesn’t have to have happened in L.A., just needs to involve an area team.

Today’s moment comes from Mitchell Quaranta:

“I was 12 years old, and my Dad took me to the Dodgers-Expos game on July 22, 1970. The Dodgers were well back in the standings, and we were losing 10-4 in the seventh inning. I started whining about going home early and my Dad said, ‘You never leave a baseball game early. Anything can happen!’

“So we stayed. Dodgers loaded the bases, got a couple of hits to score three runs and with the bases loaded again, they bring in Tom Haller as a pinch-hitter. First pitch he blasts over center field wall for a grand slam (my first ever!), and the Dodgers lead 11-10. Von Joshua comes up next and proceeds to hit his first home run of his career for a 12-10 lead. Jim Brewer cleaned up the eighth and ninth for a Dodger victory. What a game, and what a lesson from my Dad, one which I never forgot!!”

Odds and ends

Lessons for Dan Le Batard and ESPN alike in latest foray into politics…. Denny Hamlin takes his fifth NASCAR Cup victory at Pocono…. Golf roundup: Brooks Koepka beats Rory McIlroy for first World Golf Championships win…. Swimmer Manning Haskal, 15, wins 11 medals at Maccabi Pan American Games…. Egan Bernal becomes first South American cyclist to win Tour de France…. Jeremy Lin struggles as a free agent: ‘The NBA has kind of given up on me’…. Max Verstappen overcomes the elements to win chaotic German Grand Prix…. Tyreek Hill makes his first public comments since being suspended by the Chiefs…. U.S swimmer Caeleb Dressel wins record eighth medal at world championships

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Today’s local major sports schedule

Dodgers at Colorado, 5:30 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570

Detroit at Angels, 7 p.m., Youtube, AM 830

Born on this date

1943: NBA player/senator Bill Bradley

1949: Baseball player Vida Blue

1958: Runner Terry Fox

1969: NHL player Garth Snow

1977: NBA player Manu Ginobili

Died on this date

2013: Baseball player George Scott, 69

2013: Baseball player Frank Castillo, 44

2018: Golfer Bruce Lietzke, 67

And finally

A look back at the life and journey of Terry Fox. Watch it here.

That concludes the newsletter for today. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, please email us here. If you want to subscribe, click here.