The last Sunday of April used to be one of my favorite days of the year. There were two reasons for that. First, the Autism Resource Center’s annual walk/5k happened that day and second, Little League baseball season usually started that day. At the walk/5k, I would get to see my friends Walter, Tom, Mike, Corey, and so many others. I would get to see my brother Danny run the 5k in my honor, and not to brag, he went from being one of only three kids running in the first year of the 5k, to finishing 3rd overall years later; he is pretty awesome.
After the end of the 5k, I would go to work. You see, I wasn’t playing in those Little League games, I was actually umpiring them! I started umpiring when I was 13 years old, and I have gotten pretty good at it. I like to attribute that to my autism. For a long time, I only saw things as black or white, there was no gray. So, umpiring came pretty easily. It was either a strike or a ball, fair or foul, safe or out. There is no in between with baseball. Like most people with autism, I have that topic or hobby that I wanted to know, actually needed to know, everything about. For some it is animals, dinosaurs, music, or something else. For me, it was baseball. Ten years after umpiring my first game, I got certified to do high school games, and have even been inducted into the American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
For my senior year of college, I needed to get an internship to be able to graduate. I applied to a few places, but the one I really wanted was the one with the Worcester Bravehearts. Getting that internship actually all started with a hat. Again, I am infatuated with the sport of baseball, and as I got older, particularly minor league baseball. I started to collect minor league baseball hats. One day, the General Manager of the Bravehearts, Dave Peterson, came into one of my classes, and it just happened that the hat I wore that day was of a team he mentioned in his presentation. In the middle of the class, he and I had a conversation about the Savannah Bananas. I turned that conversation into an interview, and later into an internship. During that internship, I learned what it is like to be part of a team. Prior to this, my only work experience had been as an umpire. I was the boss of the game, others listened to me. So, this was a new and very different experience for me. It was also one I am so grateful for, as it taught me so much. I was in charge of the Kids Club, for kids 12 years old and younger. Joining allowed them to get into Sunday home games for free, and I was in charge of getting more people to sign up for it. I am very proud to say that I increased membership by 50% in the 2018 season. But that isn’t all I did for the team. I was also the mascot, Jake the Lion, on occasion. Sometimes it was on less than an hour’s notice. I would show up for work, and they would be like, “We need a mascot for an event in 30 minutes, can you do it?” I would say yes. As someone who usually struggled with last minute schedule changes, I learned to be more willing to adapt.
When the season ended, so did my internship. So, I embraced my inner mascot, and told the Bravehearts I would do as many mascot events as possible. I wanted to still be as much a part of this great organization as possible. I also began applying to graduate schools, and I am happy to say that this August, I will be starting my Master’s in Sports Administration at what has always been my dream school, Boston College. I have also since been brought back by the Bravehearts in a different and bigger role, in charge of Sponsorship and Promotion Activation. This role involves a lot of out-reach to our sponsors, and making sure the team is fulfilling what we promised. I have also written things for the team website, and during this upcoming season,
I have performed all these different roles, and never know what I will be doing each day, which shows just how much I have changed and matured from the kid who could not deal with even the slightest bit of an unknown or slight change in routine.
I have come so far from the little kid who used to attend the Autism Resource Central’s summer camps. Last summer, I spent three weeks travelling Europe, just me and my brother. Ask anyone who knew me from those camps and I’ll bet they would say, “never in a million years!”
To end, I will share one more thing. I am a third-degree black belt in karate, testing for my fourth-degree in June, and have been taking classes for over 17 years. When I was 11 years-old, I tested for my first-degree black belt, and was asked, “What would it mean to you if you were to achieve the rank of black belt?” I responded with, “It would prove to me that just because I have disabilities, it doesn’t mean I can’t do anything I put my mind to.” Just because you have autism, it doesn’t mean you can’t do things. It might mean taking more time, or having to work harder at things, and there will still be plenty of obstacles to overcome.
But, just keep working at it, and sometimes, you will even surprise yourself with what you can accomplish.
P.S. Make sure to come to the Worcester Bravehearts game on Monday, June 29th. That night, our on the field fundraiser proceeds will benefit the HMEA.