By DOUG GORMAN|Oct. 16, 2019 – 4:45 PM

Baseball is an important part of growing up for many youth across the nation.

However others are pushed to the sidelines and kept from enjoying the thrill of beating out a base hit, pitching the ball across the plate for a strike, fielding a ground ball, hitting a home run or other rites of passage that comes with playing the Great American Pastime.

It can be especially tough for those diagnosed with Autism or other special needs to find a team or league willing for them to participate.

Thanks to the vision of Taylor Duncan, the founder of Alternative Baseball Organization, there is now a place for those diagnosed with Autism or other special needs to enjoy playing the game.

Duncan, who was diagnosed with Autism, has overcome many obstacles and found a way to pass on his passion for the game with the creation of the Alternative Baseball Organization in 2016.

Growing up Duncan loved the game, but was often denied the chance to participate.

“I started this organization to give others on the spectrum the opportunity to be accepted for who they are and to be encouraged to be the best they can be,” Taylor said on the organization’s website, alernativebaseball.org.

He has been recognized for his work on both the state and national stage, winning several awards for his humanitarian efforts and accomplishments.

Except for a bigger and softer ball, Ducan emphasizes this is real baseball with Major League rules.

All players play independently in the field and when they step into the batter’s box.

“I started this organization to give others on the spectrum the opportunity to be accepted for who they are and to be encouraged to be the best they can be,” Taylor Duncan said.

The league has teams throughout the Southeast, and it has come to Newnan in the form of the Newnan Braves.

Former Major Leaguer Johnny Estrada, who played from 2001 to 2008, including three years with the Atlanta Braves, serves as the team’s manager.

The squad is still trying to get organized and is looking for enough players to field a team.

The Newnan Braves practice each Monday from 5:00-6:30 p.m. at the Coweta County Recreation Department on Hospital Drive.

Players 15 and older, including adults with Autism or other special needs, are welcome to join the team.

This past Monday an enthusiastic group of players attended practice, including Antonio Cox, Tony LeClair, D.J. Amundson, Steven Bass, Edward Billue, and Jonathan McCally.

Cameron Peace and Nisaah Stewart make most of the practice and are also on the team despite being absent from Monday’s workouts.

Raina Bass, who servers as a team mom and administrator for the Newnan Braves, says baseball is only a part of the benefits that are offered through playing on this team.

“It’s not just about baseball,” she said. “Once they age out of school, there are very limited resources for social interaction. They are not just getting the baseball interaction, they are getting the social interaction by being here

For Estrada, sharing his baseball passion and knowledge is something he looks forward to doing every week.

Giving back to others goes back to when he was teen right out of high school.

“My first job was working at a developmental disabled group home in Fresno, California, so it just gave me a different perspective on life,” Estrada said.

He also realizes how blessed he has been to play the game at the highest level.

“I signed autographs and had people cheer my name because I was a good baseball player. These guys cheer your name because I come out and spend time with them, and hangout with them. Estrada said. “Everybody needs a reason to get up in the morning. Baseball was always my reason to get up. These guys probably never imagined they would have the chance to play baseball.”

Raina Bass can already see the difference being part of the Newnan Braves has made in her son and his teammates’ lives.

“To watch from the first practice and to see the improvement over the last month is phenomenal.” she said. They have learned if they get the ball at third to throw it to first.”

There is a Newnan Braves Facebook page for anybody wanting more information about the local team and questions can be emailed to newnanbravesabo@gmail.com .

Additional information about the entire Alternative Baseball Organization can be found at alternative baseball.org.