When then 9-year old Raymond Lara rolled his way to the baseball diamond for the first time in 2007, his eyes lit up. For years, he watched from the sidelines as his older brother Roman played in pee wee leagues.
There was a sense of excitement, watching him sprint across the outfield for fly balls, or running the bases, diving into home plate as he wrapped his arms around the bag. But there was also a sense of longing that Raymond's parents could see in his face.
Raymond has mitochondrial disease and cerebral palsy. He's non-verbal, uses a wheelchair, and described by his mother, Susan, as “medically fragile.”
So until that day in 2007, nobody thought Raymond could round the bases like his brother. Then they signed up with League of Dreams, a nonprofit organization that brings those age 5 to 22 to the baseball field (or basketball court, or bowling alley), regardless of any disability, and lets them loose.
League of Dreams is just one of 117 nonprofits participating in Give Big Kern, a one-day fundraiser set for May 3 that aims to drum up as much money as possible for local charities.
“It was an answer to our prayers,” Susan said of the inclusive sports league for those with developmental disabilities.
With a little help from his dad, Roman, who coaches the team and his brother, a designated “angel” who helps Raymond bat, field and round the bases, he's a part of the team. A field built by League of Dreams that’s accessible to those in wheelchairs helps.
“We give every child a chance to play by making the sports rules for our games more adaptive for these athletes,” Executive Director Jessica Mathews said.
So instead of having an opposing pitcher, there's a tee ball, a slow spring-loaded pitching machine or a coach who lobs one underhanded.
Susan points to a photo from Raymond's first game in 2007 as the power behind the league. Raymond is sporting a Dodgers cap and jersey and beaming smile, legs flung out in front of him as his brother races him to home plate.
“Some days are hard for him, and some days he doesn't have any energy to even hold his head up, but he always has a huge smile on his face, and the minute somebody does hand over hand to grip the bat, that smile is there,” Susan said.
Beyond the good the league does for athletes like Raymond, it provides a place for parents of developmentally disabled kids a place to bond, Susan said.
“When you have a child with a disability, it sometimes feels very alone and they have support groups out there, but it’s hard to go out and say that you need help. Whereas if you go to a baseball game and we are all there, we don't have to necessarily talk about the struggles,” Susan said. “It's a bond. It's a family.”