Taylor Duncan is open about the challenges he faced as a youth. Diagnosed with autism, he grappled with speech issues and anxiety as he navigated his way through his childhood.
But Duncan, 25, knew he loved baseball during his formative years, growing up in Georgia, and that passion provided an idea that has caused an unexpected ripple effect this past year.
“I wasn’t able to participate in competitive sports, due to the developmental delays, in addition to social stigma from those who think what one with autism can and cannot accomplish,” Duncan said.
More recently, Duncan established the Alternative Baseball Organization, a nonprofit that grew in popularity this past year as life in the U.S. seemingly reached a standstill amid COVID-19. The program is entering 2021 with more than 80 established teams across the country.
From the get-go Duncan has received recognition for his efforts, including a mention on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.”
Duncan said his desire to establish the Alternative Baseball Organization was borne out of the experiences he lacked growing up. He is quick to credit influential people who have helped him along the way.
“With the help of my mom, teachers, mentors and coaches who believed in me, I’ve gotten to where I am today in my life,” he said. “To live with the goal to inspire, raise awareness and acceptance for autism and special needs globally through the sport of baseball.”
COVID-19 essentially scrapped play on the field for the Alternative Baseball Organization this past year, but Duncan said he was undaunted and wanted to use the downtime as an opportunity to spread the word farther and wider about the organization.
The outreach has resulted in interest in different corners of the country — including Central Illinois. As Duncan has ramped up outreach, he confirmed there are athletes in the region interested in forming an ABO-sanctioned team.
“We’re very excited to bring this to Central Illinois,” Duncan said in a recent interview with Country Herald. “We definitely have interest there. We know how much you love your baseball over there.”
While actual play on the field is not a viable option this spring, Duncan said he is seeking out people to oversee team establishment efforts in a number of different parts of the country — Central Illinois being one of them.
“We’re still trying to find the coach-manager to help us get something started in the region,” he said. That’s the biggest thing — we’ve got to find the coach-manager to help spearhead the local efforts.”
Duncan said there are few prerequisites to participate in the Alternative Baseball Organization. Players of all disabilities are invited to participate and only need to be at least 15 years of age.
“We provide an authentic baseball experience for teens and adults with autism and other disabilities for physical and social skills,” Duncan said. “All are encouraged to be the best they can be. We want to instill confidence to help people fulfill dreams on and off the baseball diamond.”
ABO-sanctioned teams follow many of the same tenants of professional baseball, though there are adjustments.
“It’s tailored to everyone’s individual skill level and experience level. That way, there’s nothing that gives to one individual that takes away from another,” Duncan said. “If they swing three times in a row and miss, they’re still out. It’s still fair for everyone. There’s that same rule set.”
Duncan said he has high hopes for ABO players all across the country as life slowly inches closer toward a post-pandemic environment. If all goes as planned, physical practice out on the field could resume mid-summer.
While Duncan said safety is front and center in his mind, he also is looking forward to getting back out on the field and be part of an effort that gives players a chance to excel on the field — and off it, as well. “This gives us the opportunity to really test what we learn and apply it to life, off the field,” he said of the program. “It’s about learning to deal with disappointment. It’s about learning to deal with the element of surprise.”