The North Colonie Challenger Baseball program closed its season Saturday, June 22, with some help from the Albany Dutchmen.
Five players from the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League club came to the Boght Baseball Complex to be special “buddies” to the Challenger players – a collection of developmentally disabled players between the ages of 5 and 21.
“They’re just excited to have the support of these college players (from the Dutchmen) because a lot of them aren’t from around here,” said Challenger program President Gail Wrieden.
The Dutchmen – Zach Remillard, Chris Suseck, Joe Purritano, Anthony Marks and Brian Ruhm – stood on the field with the players and helped them with their fielding when the ball was hit.
“We’ve had a great time doing it, and they (the players) bring a lot of energy to it, which is what we love,” said Suseck, who pitched during one of the two games going on simultaneously on two fields.
“I think they’re loving it,” said Challenger team coach Bob Craig. “They look up to these guys, and the guys have been great with our kids.”
Unlike in a regular baseball game, the object in Challenger baseball is to give each player a chance to hit and run the bases. A buddy helps the players around the base paths by running alongside and offering encouragement. Once every player has had a turn at bat, the two teams switch sides.
“We felt that there should be a venue for kids with disabilities to play sports,” said Craig, who helped found the North Colonie Challenger baseball program seven years ago.
Remillard, who grew up in Latham, said watching the action from the field was a reminder of how the game he plays doesn’t always have to be serious.
“Sometimes you forget how fun this game is, and then you get out here and you’re reminded how fun this game can be,” said Remillard.
“It’s an honor just to be out here with these kids,” added Purritano, whose father graduated from Shaker High School in 1976. “Just to see the looks on their faces and how much they enjoy being out here, it’s a blessing for me to be part of it.”
Saturday morning’s games were part of a two-day event for North Colonie Challenger Baseball and the Dutchmen. The night before, Challenger players went to the Dutchmen’s home game against Mohawk Valley and accompanied the starters as they were introduced to the crowd.
Baseball isn’t the only sport offered through the North Colonie Challenger program. The kids also play soccer, basketball and bowling throughout the year, often accompanied by Shaker High School student-athletes.
“Without the support of the players from the teams around, we wouldn’t have a program,” said Wrieden. “Our players and our parents our so excited and thankful every week when our buddies show up.”