Before the first pitch was even thrown, there was an excitement in the air on Saturday as teams from across the country came together for a one-of-a-kind tournament in Forsyth County.
On Saturday, Special Olympics Forsyth County hosted the 11th annual Battle of the Bats tournament at Central Park, where more than 30 teams came to play at several levels of competitions.
“It’s absolutely magical,” said Linda Fitzpatrick, local coordinator with Special Olympics Forsyth. “We have over 50 volunteers that help make this day run. We start first pitch at 9:15 a.m., and we’ll be here until 6 or 7 o’clock at night. It’s just a day filled with fun and fellowship and having an opportunity for all the athletes to come together. We will have 350-400 softball athletes and their families, so we’ll probably have about a total of 700 people here for the day.”
Fitzpatrick said along with four Forsyth County teams – the Golden Gloves, the Loose Cannons, the Mystic Batters and the Sluggers, who played their first-ever game on Saturday – teams came from across Georgia, with a handful coming from out of state.
“We have 31 teams,” Fitzpatrick said. “We have two teams coming from South Carolina, two teams who came in from Illinois, we have four Forsyth County teams that are participating today, then all of the other teams.”
The event even got some support from the region’s local Minor League Baseball team, as Chopper, the mascot for the Gwinnett Stripers, the AAA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, came by to meet players and fans.
Mattson Miller, a pitcher for the Forsyth County Golden Gloves, said the morning of the tournament he was hopeful the team would go undefeated this year.
“I’m feeling great,” he said. “Hopefully we win.”
The tournament offers three levels of play: traditional softball; a modified division with coaches pitching; and a unified division where the athletes play with partners.
For the Sluggers, the players were making their first step to the modified division after previously taking part in the organization's skills program to learn the fundamentals of the game.
“This is the very first time the Sluggers have ever played,” said Wayne Hancock, a coach with Special Olympics Forsyth, who would occasionally pause to cheer on players. “It’s exciting for us to be able to watch them and be part of it because we are always looking at how we can develop and move, stepping –stone kind of a piece in the county.”
Hancock said he had worked with Special Olympics for 14 years and when asked how he would describe the atmosphere of the tournament, had a few words like passion, love, friendship and teamwork.
“It’s coaches, athletes and volunteers that come together to have an event that it is memory-making,” he said.
Fitzpatrick said Battle of the Bats had seen a lot of changes in the last 11 years, going from a handful of teams to having to turn some away.
“We started off just kind of as some pickup games with about seven different teams,” she said. “That was our first year, then it just began to grow, then we turned it into a softball invitation, which, unfortunately, we had to turn away teams because we just don’t have the resources and the time to support as many teams as want to play, so this year we were very blessed to have 31 teams.”
As games were heating up around her, Fitzpatrick said she was thankful for the support of everyone involved to make the tournament happen.
“When you experience this day, it truly changes your life,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s just love and fellowship and competition and stuff that’s just in the DNA of all of these athletes and families, and we’re just very, very fortunate.”