Belvidere's Superstars Baseball gives area athletes with disabilities the chance to enjoy a few innings of the national pastime together.
They have the crack of the bat, a P.A. announcer, lineups, a scorecard, and adoring fans on two and four legs. Just ask Ethan Ries of the Stars team how much he enjoys his games.
"It's really fun!"
"I feel a lot of emotions," says Gabby D'Amato, who plays on this league's other team, the Gators.
Happiness, all smiles. Joey Mahon brought local athletes with disabilities and other Special Olympians together to teach them how to play, and enjoy baseball. Now in its third year, the number of participants keeps going up, eager to learn from their coaches.
"We have a couple kids that are new sometimes and they don't know if they like baseball or anything. We had one this year, he didn't think he'd like it but the more he played and the more he got into it and the happier he got when he got a hit and caught the ball. It's nice to see all those reactions," says coach Ben Eck.
"This is my first year doing it so this is the first time I've seen kids just interact with each other and get so excited about something, it's a pleasure it really is," says coach Rose Sombke.
The players win, the coaches win, and so do the parents in their cheering section.
"The first time my daughter made a play and made an out, i was in tears. It was really cool. It's amazing how much they've taught them to do. They work with them so well," says Belvidere Superstars parent Pam Spurgeon.
The league's coaches give their time and their expertise. They ask for nothing in return.
"These coaches don't make a dime. They just do it out of the goodness of their heart," says Spurgeon.
"It's not about money, it's about seeing the reaction. My sister Ashley comes out here and plays. It's just seeing their faces, seeing how much fun they have," says league organizer Joey Mahon. "I played baseball all through high school and had a blast and seeing them get that opportunity, it's fantastic."
"I think it's really important for them to interact and have fun during the summer with other children. Doing something like this just really warms my heart," says coach Samuel Morales.
When you're driving in Belvidere on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and you pass Washington Academy's diamond you'll see Boone County's Superstars gather on the sandlot, soaking up the sun and sharing in the joy of sport.