These athletes up to the challenge (slide show)

ARLINGTON – You won’t hear “kill the umpire” at this game.

You’d be more likely to see someone hug an ump – if there was one.

These athletes play for fun. They are in the Challenger Division of the Stilly Valley Little League.

The baseball players are disabled, but the only thing that’s really disabled is the negativity surrounding many youth baseball games.

“Nice hit,” an Arlington team member said to a Mill Creek player who rounded third base as they exchanged high 5’s.

Now in its second year, the team includes players ages 4 to a senior in high school. The team has 18 players this year, up from 11 a year ago.

Moms like Melanie Irish, who’s now the Challenger coordinator, wanted to have the team so their disabled children could play, too.

Her son Jacob, 17, has a rare genetic disorder. “He’s been watching his brothers play for years,” Irish said. “He’s their biggest fan.”

But now they can support him, too. Noah, 12, helped Jacob this game – he guided him at the plate, ran the bases with him and helped him in the field, too. “The opportunity for him to play is amazing,” Irish said of Jacob. Even though he is nonverbal, “He asks about it all week. He knew it was game day.”

Players on Bryce Krein’s Major League team, which brother Noah plays on, helped the Challenger League players against Mill Creek. Krein, vice president of the league, said his players get so much out of helping.

“It’s an eye-opener for them,” he said. “It’s not just baseball – it’s a life thing.”

His Lumber King players were all smiles helping out.

“It’s an experience for our kids to see,” their coach said, adding they become more grateful for what they have.

Stephanie Crawford of Lake Goodwin said her son, Nicholas, 19, played in the Challenger League last year, too. “He watched his siblings play, and he wanted to play, too,” she said.

She admitted with a smile that her son, who graduates this year from Lakewood High School, likes to play mostly for the free hot dog given out to their team at the concession stand after the game.

Jennifer Bjornson has seven kids, so they have always been around baseball. Her daughter, Ally, is nonverbal, “but I think she has fun,” her mom said.

Like Ally, Phil Lundberg’s son Ben, 9, also is in his second year on the team. “They treat us first class,” Lundberg said, adding they get to play on the new turf field at the Boys and Girls Club. He likes that instead of trying to integrate them onto other teams, the disabled players get to play against each other.

“It takes the pressure off the kids – and the parents,” he said. “They can be themselves.” Lundberg said he has heard people say their games are the best ones they’ve been to all year. “They get back to the spirit of sportsmanship,” he said.

Lefty Wyatt Staffenhagen, 10, who was playing first base, displayed some of the sportsmanship.

“Wow, good hit, keep going,” he told one Mill Creek player.

Wyatt, who is in his first year, is one of the few players on the team who is verbal. He likes hitting best.

“It’s cool that you can run the bases, too,” he said.

Along with a buddy system to help the players stay on task, there are other special rules in this league.

“We modify it up pretty big,” Irish said.

Players can hit off a T or have someone on their own team pitch to them underhand or overhand. They can use a yellow or white ball.

“Whatever they’re comfortable with,” Irish said, adding moms and dads often help with the hitting. Besides Mill Creek, other teams in the league are in Lynnwood, Oak Harbor, and a new one in Tulalip.

Irish said Mill Creek has had a team for 10 years.

“I guess I need an outfield today,” she said as another Mill Creek player ripped one into the outfield. “We don’t need to usually.”

The games usually only last two innings.

“Everybody hits, everybody gets on base. I wish it was all like this,” she said as she watched fans and players alike cheer each other on. Irish is so glad for the team. The Stilly League “knows that every kid should get a chance to play baseball,” she said. Irish said she can tell everyone is having fun because they are always smiling. That was clearly evident when Aurora Dressen hit the ball. She was so happy before running to first base she instead ran to the backstop to join the crowd in its cheering for her. “I smile so much it hurts” after the game, Irish said.

More in Life

Mizell takes over as Marysville parks director

MARYSVILLE – Tara Mizell, a city parks employee since 1994, has been… Continue reading

Marysville CT driver wins honor for going 2 million miles without an accident

MARYSVILLE – David Gibson of Marysville has been awarded by Community Transit… Continue reading

2 from MG Students of the Month

MARYSVILLE – Madeline Grandbois and Nicholas Faber of Marysville Getchell have been… Continue reading

The actors/musicians who provide the musical backdrop for “Dark of the Moon” Drew Winston, left, Dyann Arthur, James Prater, Bill Pfleging, and Joe Goins.
Witch boy falls in love with human girl in Red Curtain play

MARYSVILLE – “Dark of the Moon,” a gothic exploration of Smokey Mountain… Continue reading

Surrounded by Marysville Middle School students, Marc Mero tells how he told his mom he was sorry after she died. (Steve Powell/Staff Photo)
Tragedy and Triumph: Life story inspires students; public event Thursday

MARYSVILLE - Former professional wrestler Marc Mero is telling his inspirational story… Continue reading

M-P’s Schaffler, Kalab students of the month for September

MARYSVILLE – Maggie Schaffler and Aaron Kalab of Marysville-Pilchuck are the Marysville… Continue reading

Marysville celebrates start of Hispanic Heritage Month (slide show)

MARYSVILLE – A colorful display of dancing highlighted a gathering at Legacy… Continue reading

Ex-pro wrestler back to give addiction message to schools, public

MARYSVILLE – Former professional wrestler Marc Mero brought his anti-bullying message to… Continue reading

Kids fly high having fun at Arlington Airport Days (slide show)

ARLINGTON – While folks in our area love to go to Leavenworth… Continue reading

Marysville leaders praise retiring parks director at last council meeting

MARYSVILLE – The Godfather of Marysville parks, Jim Ballew, was lauded at… Continue reading

Foghat, Vassar, Lonestar coming to new Arlington venue

ARLINGTON – The new Rivers Run Event Center at Angel of the… Continue reading

Recycled Christmas trees pay off for Marysville Food Bank

MARYSVILLE – It pays to recycle. Boy Scout Troop 419 picked up… Continue reading