Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Westlake hits a home run with VIP baseball

Last Wednesday, I did something I never do. I turned off the Indians game in disgust. If you are a Tribe fan, you can guess the exact moment when I snapped. On consecutive plays, Ben Broussard and Ronnie Belliard brain-farted. Broussard just threw home without peeking at the runner and Belliard thought about throwing the ball everywhere but just held on to it. Two ground balls and no outs to show for it. The Indians were only down 2-1 at that point. But I turned off the game and never returned.

This has been the most disappointing summer of baseball in my life. I was raised on bad baseball, and it never affected me like this. I have been a vocal supporter of Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge, so the lack of passion and execution on the field has been disturbing. I don't want to give up on them, but I can't stomach how they have been playing.

Suffice to say, I was feeling burned out on baseball. And I started to ask myself how many weeks until high school football comes back.

Then I got a phone call from Dale Smith's eldest son. So I headed down to Clague Park to meet Dale and checked out the Very Important Person Baseball League. (See article on page 3B)

If you are fed up with professional sports and disgusted with some of things you have heard during your kids recreational or school games, stop on by at Clague Park in Westlake Sundays at 6 p.m.

They don't keep score. Innings aren't really apparent. But there is a ball, a bat and gloves. It is baseball at its best.

I watched one little boy walk up to the plate. He tapped his bat on the plate just like a big leaguer. He swung with the power of Travis Hafner but missed. He would miss ten or twelve more times. But he wanted no part of a tee. He knew he could do this. No one in the crowd yelled for the next batter. No one in the infield was bothered by the delay. Finally, the young power hitter smashed the ball down the third base line. The crowd cheered but our hero fell to the plate in tears. He had used his fingers wrapped around the bat to slug the ball. It took a moment, but he shook off the pain, got up and ran as hard as he could to first base. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. You can't help but smile at that.

The range of disabilities on the field was wide. But the joy was readily apparent. These were kids being kids. One parent told me how his son was in his uniform ready to play at 7 a.m., the game started at 6 p.m.

But the biggest smiles were in the crowd. Parents, relatives and friends were assembled to cheer on their loved ones. Many never dreamed they would get to see their precious loved ones in a uniform as a part of a team enjoying what the rest of us take for granted.

As I peered down the roster, I was taken aback at how many last names I recognized. These very important kids are siblings and relatives of the kids I cover and the people you work with.

It is easy to get caught up in the misery of our pro sports teams or lost in the competition of sports our kids play in. But special needs baseball and similar programs is what sports should be about. And it should be at the forefront of what we want from our recreation programs. Dale Smith and the city of Westlake deserve the accolades they received for this program. It is outstanding to hear they have big plans to expand the program and bring others to the forefront.

But let this just be a start. Let's make our region the premier location of special needs activities. Often in the paper, we shed some light on these programs. If we have missed some, please let us know about them and send a email to

And if you have an idea for something that is lacking, it can all start with a phone call. Just like the VIP Baseball League.