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Tuesday, March 19 , 2019, 3:26 am | Fog/Mist 53º

Sports: A Noozhawk Partnership with Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, The Lab, and American Riviera Bank

Foresters Step Up to the Plate for Little League’s Challenged Players

The young players will join the semi-pro baseball team on the field before Saturday's game.

Before the start of the Santa Barbara Foresters-Maxim Yankees game on Saturday at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium, players from the semi-pro Foresters and the Dos Pueblos Little League Challenger Division will enjoy pre-game activities, united by a love of baseball.

Little League Challenger player Ben Sarrasin, 9, will play with his band, The LMNOPs, before Saturday’s Santa Barbara Foresters game. (Robert Leitner photo)

The Challenger Division of DPLL provides adapted baseball teams for Santa Barbara County boys and girls ages 5 to 18 with physical and developmental disabilities. Since its start in 2004, the league has expanded to six teams, playing once a week at Girsch Park in Goleta.

Challenger players are matched up with “buddies” from the non-Challenger teams in the DPLL before each game. The buddies act as personal baseball coaches to the Challenger players, helping them with skills and physical feats such as rounding bases.

“I want (the Challengers) to be a support to parents through connections and similar situations,” said Challenger coordinator Retta Slay, whose son Keaton has Down’s syndrome. “But the big heart of the program is the little league buddies. That’s what makes it so wonderful.”

Saturday’s game is an opportunity for the Challengers and their buddies to join the Foresters on the field before the game. Challenger first baseman and accomplished percussionist Ben Sarrasin, 9, will play with his band, The LMNOPs, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Sarrasin is a student at Crane Country Day School and has been working with Gifted Artist Records in Los Angeles to produce his first compilation of jazz and blues standards, due out in December.

His backup musicians have played for bands such as the Doobie Brothers, America and Chicago.

At 4:30 p.m., all uniformed DPLL players will be invited to join the Foresters on the field, and at 5 p.m. everyone will be introduced. Three-year Challenger veteran Emily Grigor, 13, will throw the first pitch. Challenger coach Claudia Watters will sing the national anthem.

Foresters head coach Bill Pintard has been actively involving the semi-pro team with the Challenger players.

“Bill just really has a heart for this, to help children with special needs and to play baseball,” Slay said. ‘It’s the perfect fit.”

The disabilities that Challenger players face range from Down’s syndrome to autism to stiff leg muscles. Deaf children sometimes have their parents sign for them during games.

There is a shady area reserved for all DPLL families and their guests as well as a snack bar for all attendees. The bright Challengers banner will be hung near the reserved section, and ticket prices include all pre-game entertainment.

The Foresters game will begin at 5 p.m.; however, DPLL is aware that poor air quality from the Gap fire may cause respiratory problems for some little league players. In that case, parents are welcomed to stay for the activities then leave after the national anthem.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at [email protected]

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