GREAT FALLS — Georgia native Taylor Duncan was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4.
"I had speech issues, sensory issues, and anxiety issues growing up,” he said.
The disorder prevented Duncan from playing his favorite sport at a competitive level.
“I still face a lot of social stigma that kept me away from the game of baseball for the longest time, because of the constant perception I'd face that one with autism was less capable than others not on the spectrum," he said.
So in 2016, at the age of 20, Duncan started the Alternative Baseball League, a program for teens and adults with autism or other special needs to play traditional baseball.
"It was time for me to really give everyone another opportunity that was denied," Duncan said. "The opportunity to play traditional baseball, not only to play this sport, but for social and physical skills enrichment that they can take with them off the diamond, as well.”
What started with one team and a handful of players now spans more than 50 programs and 400 athletes spread across 21 states. Duncan has been named a Community Hero by the Atlanta Braves and Alternative Baseball has been featured by both ESPN's Baseball Tonight and the TODAY Show on NBC. But Duncan said the league is still looking to expand, and one of the targets is Montana.
"We want something, ideally, in every single area in the state of Montana," Duncan said. "Now, does that all have to happen at one time? No, but the more coaches and managers we can find in those areas to help us start new programs, then hopefully we can get started in spring of 2021."
Duncan said the organization is eyeballing programs in Great Falls, Butte, Helena, Kalispell, Missoula, Billings and Glendive. Right now, Alternative Baseball is on the hunt for coaches and general managers to help get the league off the ground. And if you’re interested, Duncan has a pitch.
"Look out, COVID-19, here comes Alternative Baseball's movement to power through perceptions," he said. "And guess what, Montana, we want to come for you next. Let's make it happen, captain. When we worked together to power through those perceptions and provide more opportunities for those with disabilities to be able to succeed, then we're creating new doors and new avenues for so much else to happen."
For more information, or to volunteer or donate visit AlternativeBaseball.org.