Don’t miss Champions/Dodgers game April 30 at 9 a.m. at Oak Dell Park: See you at the ballgame!

‘They love an audience. They love people here, cheering them on.’

— Dodgers Coach Reyna Chavez

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Ojai Valley News photo by Perry Van Houten

Dodgers players, coaches, parents and helpers pose for a team photo before a game with the Brewers on April 23. 

By Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter

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A new team is making baseball dreams come true for kids with special needs.

The Champions/Dodgers, part of Ojai Valley Baseball, played their first game in 2021, giving boys and girls with physical and developmental disabilities the opportunity to bat, field and run the bases.

For kids and parents alike, the team has been nothing short of a miracle.

“Kids with disabilities often can’t participate in typical, regular sports because of different challenges,” said Robin Newberger, whose son, Daniel, is on the team. “It’s too intimidating or it’s too overwhelming for them to be in a competitive type of environment.”

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Photo provided

Enter the Dodgers, who every Saturday at 9 a.m. play a different team in the league, with kids of various ages.

The players on the other teams serve as mentors and role models for the special-needs kids, helping them learn to play the game, in a non-competitive way. “The kids learn by watching the other kids play,” Newberger said. “We don’t keep score. It’s all about fun and it’s all about the buddy system.”

Playing for the Dodgers makes kids with special needs feel safe and comfortable, according to Newberger. “And the kids who are on the other teams, they really ought to be recognized for what they’re doing. They’re being great role models, they’re having fun and they’re really making an impact on the community,” she said.

On Saturday, April 23, Newberger watched proudly as Daniel batted and ran the bases at Oak Dell Park in Oak View, in a game with the Brewers. “He loves to hit the ball, so we’re excited to see him out there,” she said.

The Dodgers play in the Champions Division, a special division for special-needs kids. Ventura has a special needs team, and there are similar teams in other sports such as soccer.

“Everybody gets to hit, everybody gets to run the bases,” Dodgers coach Reyna Chavez told the Ojai Valley News before the game.

The team was formed three years ago so Chavez’s special-needs son, Andrew, would have a place to play baseball. “It started from there,” she said, “just out of a need for him to be part of something.”

But then the pandemic hit and the kids couldn’t play. In 2021, the Dodgers played their first season, taking the field in a dozen games.

Demonstrating compassion and good sportsmanship, members of the other team often volunteer to play on the Dodgers’ side and encourage the special-needs players by saying things like: “You got this. Don’t give up,” Chavez said.

The team is sponsored by Chavez’s business, Scrubs on the Run Medical Uniforms & Accessories, and kids play on the team for free. “They get their uniforms, they get their gear. They don’t have to pay a penny out of pocket to participate,” she said.

Most of the kids, who range in age from 6 to 13, have gone from hitting off a baseball tee to being able to hit a pitch. The team is open to girls, too.

Meiners Oaks resident Brian Decker’s daughter, Miriam, is on the team. “She loves it,” he said, “and the facility here is super.”

Who’s a better hitter — Miriam or her twin brother, Keola? “I am,” she said.

Gina Braget, secretary of Ojai Valley Baseball, has a son on the Brewers. When the team came off the field at the end of an inning on April 23, she heard one of the players say the Dodgers were “the most fun team” he had ever played against.

“They understand that they’re out here to give the Dodgers the opportunity to feel like they’re part of the league,” Braget said. “There’s no stress. There’s no worry about competition. It’s just getting out there and having a good time. And they’re doing something good in the world, and that makes everyone feel better.”

After a two-year time out due to COVID-19, it was great to hear the cry of “play ball!” according to Braget. “It’s here and it’s working. And I get so much positive feedback from the parents,” she said.

“It’s the best game we have, every week,” said Ojai Valley Baseball President Greg Miller, who has a boy on the Rangers and another on the Pirates. “Even if my team’s not playing, I usually have two of my kids come out here and play.”

The Dodgers get together to practice once a week. Games take about an hour, and Coach Reyna encouraged the public to come out to the ballpark and root for the players. “They love an audience,” she said. “They love people here, cheering them on.”

The next game is this Saturday, April 30, at 9 a.m. The last game of the season is on May 21.

Oak Dell Park is at 18 Valley Road in Oak View, behind the Oak View Community Center.




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