Roy Campanella Inspired a Handicapped Kid To Be a Baseball Writer

Friday, March 27, 2020

Copyrighted by Sarah Morris, 2020

As many of you know, I am a quadriplegic. Without the example of Roy Campanella, I would never have dreamed of having a career in baseball.

I was a seven-year-old when I fell in love with the Los Angeles Dodgers. From my earliest memories, my family listened to the Dodger games on car trips. Sometimes, Dad watched the Dodgers, particularly when they were in the postseason. As a little kid, I was annoyed when a dumb baseball game made me miss seeing The Brady Bunch or The Monkees.

Okay, I was a little girl trying to figure out the world. I had a stroke when I was born, making me a quadriplegic. Although I cannot speak well, I have always felt my lack of hand use is my biggest obstacle to overcome. I played with my able-bodied cousins like any other kid, but I was not allowed to attend my normal neighborhood school because I was handicapped or different from most kids.

I did not feel any different from anyone else. Yes, I could not walk, sit by myself, use my hands, or speak well. I could learn anything mentally, but most people did not know if I had an active brain. Of course, my parents saw my intelligence, but the rest of the world questioned if I had mental disabilities because I could not communicate what I knew. For some reason, the rest of the world could not look in my sparkling dark blue eyes and know I comprehended every word they said.

I had a home teacher for first grade. Since I could not talk, my teacher did not know how to teach me to read, but she taught me how to spell and do basic math. I could not have spelled a word unless I could read those spelling words. I was a good student.

For second grade, I went to Roosevelt School for handicapped children. Although I had first-grade education the previous year, the school put me in a kindergarten and first-grade class, which hurt my feelings. Only one other student in my class was in a wheelchair, but he had good hand use and terrific speech.

I felt I did not fit in the school because even at six, I could understand most of the students had mental disabilities and I did not. Most of the students had much more physical skills than me. Many teachers and therapists criticized my parents for not putting heavy steel braces so I could accomplish something with my miserable life. At two, a physical therapist told my mom I was never going to walk.

In the first week at Roosevelt, we played a version of baseball, actually T-ball, where they used orange cones for bases and the tee. Unlike other kids, I needed help from my regular classroom teacher to participate in the game. For some reason, I thought kicking my legs as fast as I could would make my wheelchair go faster than my teacher push my wheelchair. Looking back, playing a form of baseball made me a part of American pastime and society, even as a handicapped child.

It was the fall of 1977, and the Dodgers were in the Fall Classic, the first one under Tommy Lasorda, against their arch-rivals in October, the New York Yankees. Of course, just turned seven, I did not know anything about baseball history. I remember seeing the late Bobby Welch as a rookie striking out superstar Reggie Jackson, who later in the Series hit three homers in a game. Of course, I did not comprehend the significance of either event.

The next spring, I was in a different class when I proved I knew too much for the K-1 class. I was a hyperactive child who drove my teacher and three aides crazy. If they did not give me something to do, I found myself something to do, usually unpleasing the adults. During March, they put me on the floor and allowed me to play blocks and trucks and listen to Dodger spring training games on the radio. Though listening to spring training did not give me the normal educational experiences that second graders should have, I learned much from Vin Scully, Jerry Doggett, and Ross Porter.

On Sundays, the Dodgers televised exhibition games from Vero Beach, also known as Dodger Town. On one pre-game show, they did a segment on former Dodger great Roy Campanella. I learned he was three-time MVP and a brilliant catcher who was in an automobile accident that left him paralyzed from shoulders down. He was coaching the catchers at Vero Beach and was a member of the Dodger public relations staff.

Through the years, I watched and listen to Dodger games. Every time I heard anything about Roy Campanella, I was fascinated. Seeing Campanella doing a valuable job gave me an example of a disabled person doing an important job gave me the courage and kept me motivated to do my best in school, so I could get a job. Not many people thought I would never have a productive job.

Without Campanella, I probably would not have dreamed of being a professional baseball writer. From 2001 to 2018, I was a freelance writer for Major League Baseball Advanced Media, my dream job. I love writing about baseball, especially the Dodgers. During this difficult time, I miss baseball, but I understand public welfare is more important than playing baseball. Soon, Major League Baseball will resume. Every baseball fan will rejoice.

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