Usually, a 17-year-old playing in a league with 13- and 14-year-olds would set off major alarm bells about inequity and cheating. That's not happening in Fruit Heights, Utah, despite the fact that Pony Division baseball player Blake Curtis is 17. That's because he is almost certainly one of the most popular players in the entire Farmington Area Baseball League.
There's a good reason for that: Curtis is a young man with Down Syndrome who simply loves to play baseball.
As reported in a terrific feature by the Deseret News' Keith McCord, Curtis continues to play in the Farmington Area Baseball League because he wants to compete in baseball but wouldn't necessarily fit in seamlessly in an area high school squad. In Fruit Hills, no one has a problem with Curtis' participation. In fact, they even embrace special rules to allow the teen to play.
Unlike all other teams, Curtis' squad, which is coached by his father, Jeff Curtis, is allowed to field 10 players at a time, with Curtis joining the traditional nine fielders as either an extra right fielder or a pitcher. More notably, if a pitch is outside and the younger Curtis swings and misses, that pitch still counts as a ball. If a pitch is a strike, it's always a strike whether Curtis swings or not, just as it would be otherwise.
According to the elder Curtis, the family never expected Blake to get to a point where he could face live pitching, despite the fact that he began playing baseball at age 5. Concerns about his safety and ability to play up to competition were always present. Then there were concerns about how he would react when things didn't go his way; the first time Blake Curtis was hit by a pitch, he didn't want to go to first base, and was angry that he didn't get to keep swinging for a hit.
Yet, now that Blake has been fully integrated into a team, the entire Curtis family can look back on years of work and baseball development and feel that it was all worth it.
"It's just been a lot of fun because everybody's been so good to him," Jeff Curtis told the News. "Kids especially, they've supported him, rallied around him when he bats or when he pitches. [It has] been a lot of fun.
"When we started, I never thought we'd get past the pitching machine. He's faced a real pitcher and done really well. It's amazing what kids are capable of if you just give them the opportunity and get out of their way."