Director of Printing and Mail Services Helps Get Kids in the Game

Director of Printing and Mail Services Helps Get Kids in the Game

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

It’s hard to write a story about baseball and avoid the clichés; American’s favorite pastime was practically invented for them. 

But words like perseverance, determination and will are anything but trite when it comes to describing the team that Paul Roberts coaches. Some of his players round the bases using wheelchairs. Some use walkers. And some run, flat out, like the wind, the disabilities they live with not as visible as their teammates’. 

What unites them isn’t a cliché either, although it might sound like one: heart, these kids have it in spades. 

“They just want to do what other kids do,” says Roberts, director of Printing and Mail Services at UNH. “And just like any other kid, they give it their all. They really aren’t any different than any other team I’ve coached--they all have strengths and they all have weaknesses. They are more the same than they are different.” 

Roberts has a coaching resume but had taken a few years off so he could enjoy watching his 18-year-old son, Luke, play. But then a Bambino Buddy-Ball league came to Rochester and his son Mark, 20, joined the team. (He has a third son, Ben, who is 24). An offshoot of the Babe Ruth League, Bambino Buddy-Ball is for disabled athletes ages 5 to 20. Each player is teamed with a buddy who helps them with batting, throwing, fielding, and running the bases. 

Paul Roberts and his sons Mark and Luke

Coach Paul Roberts (R) and his assistant coaches and sons, Mark and Luke, cheer on their players during a baseball game at the Roger Alan Baseball Park in Rochester. Courtesy photo.

The first year, the team played on a dirt field. Last season, they moved to a small field at the Roger Allen Baseball Park, a multi-sport complex in Rochester. After three years of fundraising and planning, play began this year on Howie’s Field of Dreams, named for the late Howie Seckendorf, who had envisioned a place where kids living with disabilities could play baseball without barriers. 

“The first time the team got together on the dirt field, they had a hard time. One boy uses a wheelchair and another uses crutches. To watch them try to navigate the bases was very difficult,” Roberts says. “It was apparent they couldn’t get on base. But they all had a blast. You could see right away how excited they were; how excited their parents were. 

“Now they have this field of their own. The complex was already a beautiful place but this field is the candle on the cake.” 

And coaching has become a family affair, with Mark and Luke joining their father in the dugout. Roberts’ wife, Kate, director of financial services in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, also pitches in. 

“The payback for working with these kids is 10 times what you put into it.  A couple of weeks ago I had a particularly tough, stressful day at work. We had a practice that night and being with the kids just melted away the effect of the workday,” Roberts says. “I feel lucky to be a part of it.”