My lifetime association with Little League Baseball, which has encompassed playing, coaching, broadcasting, writing, and fourteen years as the organization’s Central Region Director, has provided a myriad of memories, some humorous, some stressful, and some very personally rewarding.
Next week Little League’s International Hall will be filled with volunteers and supporters as the pairings for this August’s World Series will be drawn. Soon thereafter, local tournament play will commence with the dream of reaching Lamade Stadium, even though remote, will be dancing in the minds of excited youngsters.
The thought of another World Series on the horizon brought back memories made in the early 2000s and the impact it had upon the life of Aaron Latchat, then a participant in Little League’s Challenger Division. Aaron was a young man who loved baseball but was confined to a wheelchair and was helped by the Children’s Development Center.
Moved by Aaron’s story, I contacted LLB president Steve Keener to explore the possibility of having the youngster meet Harold Reynolds.
Reynolds was one of the television commentators covering the World Series for ESPN and had enjoyed an MLB career with the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, and California Angels. While covering the World Series, Reynolds’s outgoing personality made him quite popular with the Little League players and fans. He was generous with his time and seemed to sign autographs for all those who asked.
Keener went through the proper protocol with ESPN, and Reynolds agreed to take part. I spoke with Reynolds to let him know what we wanted to do. Reynolds would meet Aaron in the dugout at Lamade Stadium, pose for some pictures and engage in some conversation. He would do MUCH MORE than that.
On the morning of the meeting, Reynolds was his usual congenial self. He willingly gave of his time, and the smile on Aaron’s face made it one of the very special moments he would never forget. Being confined to the wheelchair made his accessibility to certain areas difficult to achieve.
Standing on the field at home plate at Lamade Stadium, Reynolds pointed up to the television broadcast booth to show Aaron the location where he broadcast the games. Those who have been to Lamade Stadium are familiar with the elevated platform behind home plate. There is no elevator to reach the booth. To get there, one must walk up the grandstand steps and enter a walkway leading to the booth.
Reynolds asked Aaron, “Would you like to see it?” The smile on his face spoke affirmatively.
Asking the boy’s parents if it was alright, Reynolds lifted Aaron from his wheelchair and proceeded to carry him up the many steps to the broadcast location. If that didn’t bring tears to your eyes, you weren’t a human being. Once in the booth, Reynolds devoted time to putting the youngster in his chair, trying on his headset, and explaining the many accouterments involved in a baseball telecast. Once that special tour ended, Reynolds carried Aaron back down the steps to his wheelchair.
A year later, the Children’s Development Center asked if it could be possible for Aaron to meet Reynolds again. Reynolds agreed, also consenting to meet with other youngsters and their parents at a private reception. Unknown to Reynolds, Aaron had a special presentation to make, giving him a plaque, thanking him for his kindness, and containing an inscription calling him an MVP.
Reynolds was moved to tears. Composing himself, he then asked Aaron for ‘his’ autograph.
Now, two decades later, Aaron is employed by UPMC as a front desk information greeter and has been an inspiration to so many others.
Aaron’s story and Reynolds’s kindness are by-products of the tremendous work that continues to be done by the magnificent mission of the Children’s Development Center in providing pediatric rehabilitation services for children from birth through age 21 in Central Pennsylvania.
About to celebrate their 100th year of service to the community, pediatric rehabilitation provides individualized speech, occupational, feeding, and physical therapy to maximize every child’s potential while promoting their highest possible level of function and independence.
Over the past two years, there’s been a 42% growth in the demand for these specialized services. Five hundred thirty-six children receive individualized therapy at the CDC, removing barriers to care like transportation and scheduling. Another 160-170 children a week from a 60-mile radius of Williamsport visit for outpatient clinic visits.
In conjunction with its 100th anniversary, the CDC is accepting donations to assist in the purchase of needed updated rehabilitation equipment. Those in a position to help may obtain further information by contacting Denise Lorson at the Children’s Development Center at 570-326-0565.
“Take me out to the ball game” is a familiar refrain heard during the seventh inning of Major League games. But Aaron Latchat’s two-decades-ago visit to Lamade Stadium stands as a lasting tribute to the work being done daily by the Children’s Development Center’s team of caring professionals who would welcome any help you can provide.