Located in California, southeast of the state capital of Sacramento, the Bret Harte Little League is a close-knit group. The total number of players numbers around 200, typical for a small community like this one. But the League is having a big impact on one of its players, and he in turn is making an equally large impact on the League and the community.
In a lot of ways, Ryder Sitch is like most of the other six-year-olds playing in the Bret Harte Little League’s tee ball program, with one notable exception: Ryder is blind.
Ryder has bilateral retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye that developed when he was an infant. Ryder needed surgery to remove one of his eyes at the age of 1, and still receives regular treatment to this day.
None of this however, stops Ryder from having fun with his friends on the diamond. Thanks to the efforts of League President Josh Pullin and his coach, Zak Ogburn, Ryder was able to join Mr. Ogburn’s Giants tee ball team despite missing registration.
After Mr. Ogburn brought up the issue with Mr. Pullin and the other presidents in the district, the choice to let Ryder join the team was an easy one.
“Every president in that room said, ‘No matter the cost, we will donate to make this happen,’” said Mr. Pullin.
Mr. Obgurn was blown away by the support Ryder received from his teammates and other members of the community.
“That’s the part that was really gratifying,” said Mr. Ogburn. “His teammates would be holding his hands in the dugout, they’d be cheering him on.”
The League was able to use a beep ball, which emits a noise so that blind players like Ryder are able to tell where the ball is. Often times, though, Ryder hasn’t needed it; with a little help from his mom Yvonne and his coach, Ryder is able to square one up with the best of them.
“He didn’t really need much help with the batting,” said Mr. Ogburn. “I would just lead his bat to the tee and he’d take a swing.”
As he gets older, Ryder will have the opportunity to compete in one of the many Little League® Challenger Divisions across the country.
“He is absolutely the most joyful kid on the field,” said Mr. Ogburn. “This kid had a big smile on his face every time he was playing.”
“It’s had nothing but a positive impact,” said Mr. Pullin. “We have parents who don’t have kids playing coming out to watch the games, some board members too. The parents love it.”
Allowing children like Ryder the opportunity to play the sport they love in front of their friends and family is one of the hallmarks of Little League.
“We don’t take any credit,” said Mr. Pullin. “I just see it as getting another kid to play baseball.”