You never know what life is going to throw at you.
As the parent of a kid on the autism spectrum, that's kind of the understated tagline of our lives. It's also the tagline for curveball, a newly-released independent film featuring a Little League Challenger Baseball team called the Upper Providence Phillies as they prepare for Opening Day. As the synopsis on the film's website says, this team is not your average little league team. This team is located in a small town outside Philadelphia - and these Phillies are made up of mentally and physically disabled kids who have big challenges ... and bigger hearts. With a unique coach and supportive families these kids prepare for a day they will remember for the rest of their lives.
This weekend, curveball gets its own Opening Day when it will be shown as part of the 7th Annual Garden State Film Festival April 2-5, 2009 in Asbury Park, NJ.
I've watched the film's trailer several times this morning, always with happy tears in my eyes as I remember April and May 2007. Our Saturday mornings that spring were spent on a dewy field of dreams watching Boo play Challenger Baseball. (We actually played the Upper Providence Phillies that year and they were beyond gracious and welcoming.) When we first signed Boo up, we weren't sure what to expect from the experience - whether Boo would actually play or if we would once again be steeling our hearts against disappointment.
Truthfully, there was a little piece of our guarded hearts that wished we weren't members of this special needs parents team, that we didn't have to go to floortime therapy right after baseball, that we could be like the perceived "normal" families spilling out of minivans headed for the baseball diamonds across the road. It's exactly what one of the parents says in the trailer for curveball - with a special needs child, you have to give up the storybook fantasy of the child you expected, the one who you expected to play catch with in the backyard.
All of that was forgotten from the moment the first pitch was thrown. I don't remember any of the other kids' names on the team, nor their parents. What I do remember is what curveball captures so well: the incredible determination and spirit of every one of Boo's teammates, the sheer, unconditional acceptance from the volunteer coaches, the parents in the stands cheering for every single player on our team and the opposing team. I mean, in what quote-unquote "normal" youth sports organization does that happen? Quite simply, it doesn't. Not in a society that needs an awareness campaign about the r-word.
That spring, these were all of our kids, every one of them. We were, all of us, part of a team that got it. Where our kids were included, celebrated, accepted, loved - if only for one brief shining moment in the sun.
And as the calendar turns to April and another season of youth sports gets underway, we could all do well to remember the lessons from curveball.
And the curveballs that life throws at us.