For a few Saturday mornings each spring, a magical field of dreams appears on the grounds of the First Colony Little League Park.
There are coaches shouting encouragement to their players, parents are cheering from the stands, umpires are calling every runner safe, angels are all over the field, and there are smiles everywhere. If you are wondering what’s going on, it’s the Challenger Division of the First Colony Little League at play.
The Challenger Division, better known as the Dream League, is for physically or intellectually challenged players.
“The Dream League was started in 2007, and this year we have 128 players on six junior teams and four senior teams,” board member Bruce Hicks said. “Our season runs from February 23 to May 11. Then we have our all-star game at Constellation Field on May 19. We play after the Skeeters’ game.”
On a recent Saturday morning, the Rangers were playing the Skeeters in the senior division. In the second inning, Jake Moronko steped to the plate. Jake took a pitch from his father, Jeff Moronko, but slamed the next pitch into left field and took off around the bases. Jake scoreed just ahead of the tag by his father.
Jake has been diagnosed as autistic. Autism is characterized by challenges with social behavior, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects one in 59 children in the United States today.
Jake is 23 years old and went to school at Clements High School. He now attends GiGi’s Playhouse in Sugar Land several days a week.
Jake and Jeff have been playing in the Dream League since its inception.
“I have been playing in the dream league a long time. My favorite part is batting. I like to hit. I usually play second base when we are in the field,” Jake said.
When not playing baseball or watching it on television with his father, Jake likes to play video games (Basara is his current favorite), go swimming, and ride a tandem bicycle with his father.
Like most Dream Leaguers, Jake has his good days and bad days. Jeff credits his wife, Kim, for being Jake’s angel at home.
“Kim is unbelievably patient with Jake,” Jeff said. “She is a great mother.”
Jeff played professional baseball for eight years, 1980 to 1987, and now works for United Parcel Service. Most of his baseball years were in the Minor Leagues, but he did play a few games in the Major Leagues with Cleveland in 1984, and the New York Yankees in 1987.
Jeff is a manager of the Rangers and pitches to his team when they are at-bat. For both teams, Jeff stays near the mound and has the defense throw him the ball as the batter runs around the bases. He then attempts to tag the batter out before he/she can cross the plate. After 12 years, he has failed to tag even one batter out.
“I pay the price when I chase them from third base to home. My heel is killing me right now and tonight I will be hurting. But I love chasing Jake and the kids around the bases. You heard two or three of those kids giggling as I tried to catch them and tag them out. They think an ogre is after them. I just love playing with them. I enjoy it and am glad I can be out here with my son,” Jeff said. “But most of all, I love getting out here just to see the smiles on their faces.”
Board member Jimmy Goldman was umpiring the Rangers’ game and called every runner safe as they crossed home plate. He echoes Jeff’s comments.
“For an hour each week, we join the Dream Leaguers in their world. Giving them an opportunity to smile and laugh is an unbelievable feeling. You hope the game never ends,” Goldman said.
Games are held on Saturdays at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.