Pleasanton Challenger teams open baseball season

Angels and Phillies take the field, joined by Dons varsity squad

The sky may have been overcast at times, but the smiles beamed brightly across the diamond when the Pleasanton Little League Challenger teams opened their seasons Sunday afternoon.

"To see all of these people set aside their diversities and come together for some fun in the name of baseball is what this day is all about," said Diane Berry, coach of the Challengers Angels, sponsored by Pleasanton Foothill and Pleasanton American little leagues. "I think everyone had a great time in the spirit of friendship and baseball."

Dozens of family, friends and volunteers cheered from the stands and helped on the field as the Angels played the Challengers Phillies, sponsored by Pleasanton National Little League, at the Dublin Sports Grounds.

"This is an opportunity for our kids to get to experience the same stuff that all of the typical kids get to experience. They get to feel the joy of playing baseball," said Phillies coach Duane Habecker. "It's also an opportunity for the parents to get to experience stuff they didn't think they'd get to experience."

The Little League Challenger Program offers mentally and physically challenged boys and girls the opportunity to play organized baseball in an environment geared to their abilities.

Angels player Josh Layman said he was excited to play again this year, adding that his favorite parts of the game are batting and playing catch.

A sophomore at Amador Valley High, Layman also participates in baseball on campus, serving as the Dons junior varsity team manager.

And Amador Valley baseball showed its support to the Challenger teams Sunday, with the varsity squad participating in the Angels' opening day for the second straight year. The Dons helped the Angels and Phillies warm up beforehand and assisted with fielding and batting, as needed, during the game.

"It's really an eye-opening experience. It's not something you think of every day, getting out of bed or brushing your teeth," Dons senior shortstop Steven Nice said. "It really makes you feel lucky to be able to play the game of baseball."

Also on-hand for the opening ceremony were Pleasanton City Councilwoman Kathy Narum and Marla Silversmith, director of special education for the Pleasanton Unified School District.

"I think it's great that they have this opportunity to participate in something like baseball," Narum said.

"It's nice to come out and support our students and families outside of the classroom," Silversmith added.

The Angels and Phillies played their standard two-inning game, with each player getting turns at the plate and on the field -- and no one keeping score.

"This is my fourth year coaching Challengers, and every year it just keeps getting bigger and better," Berry said. "My son Ryan, age 12 with autism, gets to experience the thrill of baseball just like his two younger brothers who play double-A and triple-A Little League. It's a family affair out here."

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