Natalie Nielsen couldn't hold back as she walked to the plate at TeWinkle Park.
One of her favorite songs played in the background and she started to move and groove. By the time she arrived to the batter's box, the 19-year-old was shaking her bottom and hips, sliding to the left and sliding to the right with her bat in her hands and her body moving to the song, "Cha Cha Slide."
There's a famous line from the entertaining movie, "A League of Their Own," – "There's no crying in baseball." Well, how about dancing?
Nielsen would say, yes. The Fountain Valley resident is part of the District 62 Challenger Division senior team. Nielsen, who is autistic, loves to play baseball with her teammates, and she had a stronger love for the game on April 12, when the District 62 Challenger team played against the Costa Mesa American Little Leaguers. District 62 Challenger Division is made up of players from Huntington Beach, Westminster, Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa.
It was the second game of a four-game series that will take place throughout the season. The kids play under the lights. No one loses, and Nielsen dances.
"She likes to dance," her father, Eric, says. "She enjoys to perform."
In this setting, Natalie Nielsen isn't shy. She wanted the spotlight and she called for it with some attitude.
Parents of children with special needs know that there are good days and some bad days. This would be a good day. Eric Nielsen says he takes life day by day. He said he tries not to look too much into the future for whether Natalie can become independent.
Eric Nielsen also learns from the past, yet there are some moments he'd rather forget, for instance when Natalie hit puberty.
On the baseball diamond at TeWinkle Park, the troubles all seem to go away. Eric Nielsen and the rest of the parents smiled when they watched their children play and have fun.
What a concept. Typical kids learning to play with kids with special needs.
"They're just learning to interact with these guys," said Todd Cowley, president of CMALL. "And, they're learning that these guys are great baseball players too. They're not out here to win. They're just out here to have some fun. Play baseball."
Cowley grew excited when the Challenger Division also wanted to play under the lights when there was talk about playing the series. They'll do it again May 3 and May 17.
"This is huge for me," Cowley said. "This was a dream for me to have when I became president, to get everybody out here to play baseball. Who cares who wins? Let's just play baseball."
That's what Michael Meer came to do. The 14-year-old deals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and is on the autism spectrum, his father, Mike, said. The Meers live in Huntington Beach, where Mike and his wife, Mary Jane, try to keep up with energetic Michael.
He loves sports. Before the game against CMALL, Michael went skateboarding at the park nearby TeWinkle. His father said the boy landed hard on his chest, but he got right back up as if nothing happened.
Michael has a high tolerance for pain. As a child, he suffered from an extreme case of eczema, a condition that causes the skin to become inflamed or irritated.
At times, Michael's skin became so itchy he would scratch till it bled, the father said. Once, the father wrapped his son's hands in his socks so that he wouldn't scratch so much during the night. But Michael rubbed his body on the ground and blood still appeared.
Recently, the family has found remedies to stop the itching. They still deal with Michael's learning disabilities.
He's able to excel in athletics – he learned how to play tennis within 2 hours – but he struggles in academics.
Baseball has helped.
He was also dancing during the game, and was very animated at times. He sometimes questioned if the CMALL players of 10-12-year-olds were purposely committing errors.
Michael wanted to play the CMALL kids at their best. He was aggressive, sometimes a bit too rough. He made a teammate cry, accidentally, because he was playfully roughhousing. He apologized and did his best to explain he did not intend to hurt. He only wanted to play baseball.
Berk Bisak, 21, showed passion when he played. He took the game very seriously, because for him that's when he has the most fun, his father, Alan Bisak said.
Berk Bisak has been on the autism spectrum since he was 4, his father said. Baseball has helped him make the transition into adulthood, the father explained.
Berk loves the Angels. He'll watch their games and usually catches them again on replay.
"He gets really excited," Alan Bisak said. "He's really picked up on the game."
Berk caught everyone's attention when he stepped up to the plate and pointed his bat toward right field. He then delivered a big hit to the same spot in the outfield.
A home run, indeed.