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It’s “batter-up” for the Challenger Baseball League.

The teams take the field at 9 a.m. Saturday, May 4 at the KREI ball field on Morris Street in Farmington. All games except the final begin at 9 a.m. The final game starts at 10 a.m., followed by a picnic in Trimfoot Park at 11 a.m.

This marks the 11th year of play for the Challenger Baseball League in St. Francois County. The St. Francois county league is a part of the St. Louis Challenger league.

"In 2008, I started Challenger Baseball here in Farmington," said Joe Hoffmeister, St. Francois County Challenger Baseball founder and coordinator. "We're all St. Francois County because we serve the whole county — it's not limited just to Farmington.

"Me and my wife Michelle discovered Challenger Baseball in St. Louis. So we took our son Spencer and went out and watched it. He played and really enjoyed it. I was so overwhelmed with watching the rest of the kids — it's something else to see. It just really got me.

"I spoke out loud that I just had to do it to the guy who runs it and he said, 'I'll give you everything you need if you want to start a league. He did and I did and so we started. So, this is our 11th year and we have doubled in size.

"We've got close to 50 players this year, which is wow because I was used to 20. For the first seven or eight years it was just the core group that came out every year and now we have really expanded.

The league is for children ages 6 and up and adults with developmental disabilities. Every person — regardless of their developmental disability — can play.

"We get together and just have a really good time," Hoffmeister said. "Our league motto is 'Everybody plays…everybody scores...everybody wins.”

Just as equally important to the league are the buddies — kids and young adults between the ages of 10 and 20 — who hang out with the players on the field and assist when needed.

"We have a huge need for buddies this year and we always have a need for volunteers to support the team, Hoffmeister said. "We rely heavily on buddies because they're kind of the heart of the organization because the whole point of Challenger baseball is to build relationships and bring awareness.

Hoffmeister said that Challenger Baseball is also a learning experience for buddies, as well as those who come out to watch the games.

"If you're not around people with some kind of impairment, you feel a little uncomfortable, so we break that. The kids go out there and they make friends and some of the friendships have lasted for years. It helps with school and out in the community. Everybody gets to know them.

"That's the whole point of ball. We use baseball as a medium to build awareness. So, we always need buddies. They can be 10 years up. We prepare every buddy as a non-disabled peer. We prepare with an athlete and we get them out there and get them playing. What we want them to do and just talk and build a relationship."

Hoffmeister said it is gratifying to see what happens when you focus on the similarities instead of the differences. I want to give kudos to Farmington Parks and Rec. They really work with us. They have a heck of a time trying to schedule all these games for all rec and they always make sure we have a place to play."

While the season starts Saturday, registration for the league is still available online at challengerbaseball.org, forms are at area schools or 573-915-1061.

There is a $25 registration fee which can be waived, if necessary.

There are no practices for the teams. Those who register to play will receive a uniform and a trophy during a picnic celebration held at the end of the season.

For information on being a buddy or coach, contact Hoffmeister at 573-915-1061 or by email at michellehoffmeister@yahoo.com. Information can also be found on the team’s Facebook page, Farmington Challenger Baseball.

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Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or kjenkins@farmingtonpressonline.com

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