COCHRAN, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – The crack of the baseball bat, the roar of the crowd, there's a special energy that baseball brings to the coaches, players and fans all around. In Buddy Ball, the spirit of baseball is magnified.
Here everyone hits the ball, everyone runs the bases, and everyone wins. The annual event in Cochran offers children with all disabilities a chance to step up to the plate in a major way. Hand-in-hand with their older buddies, 60 athletes from Bleckley, Dodge and Pulaski counties left their disabilities in the dugout on Saturday. .
For the first time since giving birth to her son Christian, Nickie Rojas knew what it felt like to be the "little league mom".
"It was like he was a regular kids, he got a moment to be a winner," she said.
Four-year-old Christian is severely autistic and like many of the other children on the field, he's unable to play public school sports. But that hasn't stopped his determination to hit the ball. On Saturday, he ran all three bases, holding hands with his buddy Daylin Dean.
"I like seeing them smile, that's my favorite part," Dean said, "I like running, of course."
Twice a year, in May and October, children ages 3-15 in the three surrounding counties suit and up and walk up to bat. The event is free to all parents and participants. Students from the local schools volunteer to help and become "buddies" with the player. For 11 years now, this precious pastime has been an annual tradition in the Cochran community, and it's all thanks to two very dedicated mothers of special needs children: Danette Rogers and Margaret Spielman
"Our children could not play recreation sports and they wanted too," Rogers said, "they want to play ball and right now this is their opportunity to play so they do."
Rogers 15-year-old son Austin hit the field on Saturday. Austin's visibly impaired and has made friends for life on the field.
"I just had a lot of fun" he said, "all of them are my friends."
Patrick Barnett's son Jonah is considered Buddy Ball legacy. This year, every team member's shirt had the name Jonah patched on the corner. He died this August, after battling with a brain tumor for 10 years. His father Patrick said Jonah always looked forward to Buddy Ball.
"It was the one time of the year where he was able to get out and participate and felt like he was on equal standing with the other players," Barnett said, "he really enjoyed it."