Monday, June 4, 2012

Community rallies around baseball player with Down syndrome

Next week, it's post season tournament time for the Farmington Area Baseball League. And for the Angels, who are in the Pony Division, they're hoping to turn their season around and win the trophy.
One of the players is extremely excited. He's number 12, Blake Curtis. But everybody calls him "Blakee."
For the 17-year-old right fielder and sometimes pitcher, Wednesday's game was just another game. Blake's been playing ball since he was about 5, and he can't wait to get to the ball park.
"I have to be really careful about game day," laughs Jeff Curtis, Blake's father and coach. "As soon as I tell Blake there's a game, he'll put his uniform on. Most times, I come home from work and the game isn't for three hours, he's already home with his uniform on saying, 'Come on, let's go play.'"
Blake has Down syndrome, a chromosomal condition in which extra genetic material causes delays in a child's mental and physical development. Curtis has two children with Down syndrome. He said through experience he has learned that with children with disabilities, parents have to start early doing activities or there's no opportunity for the children to develop skills.
"We thought we'd try to go through the hard times, so we could get to this point," he said, "and it's been worth it."
He said the most important thing with anyone with a disability is to let them set their own limits. Not everyone can play baseball, he said, but some of them can, so people should let them play.
The league rules have been modified somewhat for him. For example, when he's batting, if the pitch is outside the strike zone and he swings and misses, it's still called a "ball."
"If it's over his head and he swings, it's a ball," explained Curtis. "But if it's in the strike zone, it's a strike no matter what he does. But that does two things: it forces the pitcher to throw strikes and it gives Blake a chance to go up and wail away and see what happens. And he's hit pretty good, he's done pretty well."
The team is also allowed to have 10 players on the field. "The reason we asked for that, and I've never had a parent say it, it's never been an issue, but I never wanted a parent to come and say, 'Well, why is my son sitting down because the boy with Down syndrome is playing," Curtis said.
Blake didn't hit the home runs he was hoping for that night, but he got on base a couple of times and scored. The Angels have wrapped up their 12-game regular schedule, and it was a tough year with three wins, eight losses and a tie. But the post-season starts Monday and the team has new optimism.
Blake's dad said there have been some difficult learning moments on the field through the years. Blake used to throw the bat, instead of dropping it after he hit a ball. And the first time he got hit by a pitch, he got mad and didn't want to go to first base. He wanted to stay at the plate and keep swinging.
Blake plays each game with great enthusiasm. Curtis credits that to all the players, parents and the league for giving Blake the chance to play.
"It's just been a lot of fun because everybody's been so good to him," he said, getting a little emotional. "These kids especially, they've supported him, rallied around him when he bats or when he pitches. (It's) been a lot of fun."
Curtis is grateful for the opportunity his son has been given. "That's all he ever wanted. That's all we wanted to see."
Blake and the Angels now have an opportunity to win the league championship next week.
"When we started, I never thought we'd get past the pitching machine," Curtis said. "He's faced a real pitcher and done really well. It's amazing what kids are capable of if you just give them the opportunity and get out of their way."

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