Mason baseball players participate in Little League World Series

Giovanni Lupinetti celebrates as he makes his way toward home plate.

Sean Speidel | The Chronicle

Mason Challenger league athletes had the opportunity of a lifetime to live out their own field of dreams at the Little League World Series.

Every year the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania chooses two Challenger League teams to play in an exhibition match. Mason was one of two teams selected in a raffle to play in 2020 along with a team from San Jose, California. After the tournament’s cancellation in 2020, the Mason Challenger league finally got its chance to play this year.

The Challenger League is a division of Little League baseball that gives kids with developmental and physical challenges the opportunity to play adaptive, organized games of baseball. Two Mason High School students, Andrew Schaedig and Sarah Lupinetti, traveled with the team as “Buddies” and assisted the challenger players on the field. 

Before the team left for Williamsport, they had a sendoff parade organized by the City of Mason in celebration. The celebration was meant to be similar to the ones that Mason High School teams get for advancing to the state tournament. Lupinetti said that she appreciated the support from the community and that it made the challenger league feel recognized just as any other team would.

“The parade really set a good stage for the game,” Lupinetti said. “We felt like everyone around us really cared and was cheering us on. And it just felt so awesome.”

Once they arrived at the little league world series, the team was treated like they were celebrities. Their names were announced as they stepped up to the plate and were cheered on by fans. The team had Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson as their third base coach, who also gave the players medals after the game. Freshman buddy Andrew Schaedig said that the attention the team received was unlike anything the team had seen before and it was a surreal experience for the players, buddies and organizers of the league. 

“They’ve never played and had fans who came hours from where they live just to see them play,” Schaedig said. “We were just there for them. It was amazing. They couldn’t be happier. I’ve never seen a member happier”

Schaedig said that seeing the players filled with joy as they got to play on the highest stage was an incredible feeling and is part of why he wanted to be a buddy for these players for a long time.

“The enthusiasm just on everyone’s faces was amazing,” Schaedig said.  Everyone was just so excited so it was a great experience”

Schaedig and Lupinetti got involved with the Challenger League because they each have siblings on the team. Seeing their siblings’ joy while playing on the big stage made it all worth it for them. Schaedig said that his sister was so excited to be on television and that she will never forget what an exciting experience the LLWS game was.

“My sister does not stop talking about how famous she is, and how all of her friends at school tell her how well she played,” Schaedig said.

Playing in the little league world series gave the challenger league a national spotlight. Lupinetti said she hopes that this attention provides an opportunity for more kids in the Mason area and all over the United States to be able to be a part of a challenger team and play a sport that they wouldn’t have been able to before.

“I think it might bring more kids with disabilities into our space,” Lupinetti said. “This will give them more of an outlet. They’re willing to give it a try and to have this amazing experience now that we went to the Little League World Series.”

Although both Lupinetti and Schaedig have siblings on the team, many of the league organizers and volunteers don’t have any familial connections. Lupinetti said that she was inspired by the passion that these people had for helping others.

“Having my brother in the league really made me realize how many people don’t have anyone in the league and they just do it out of pure enjoyment and they want to help other people,” Lupinetti said. “I found the good in the world.”

Being a part of the Little League World Series was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everyone involved in the Mason Challenger League. Schaedig said that he is grateful that the Little League World Series was able to create a unique experience for the players that they can cherish forever.

“This is something that they’re gonna be able to remember for the rest of their lives,” Schaedig said. “This is something that they know that they won’t be able to be held down by their differences, and they’ll be able to do anything. They made it to the World Series. They did what seemed impossible to some people, they overcame fears of baseball and played and succeeded.”

Photo contributed by Sarah Lupinetti