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MLB, Autism Speaks team up to raise awareness

This is World Autism Awareness Day, and you will see a lot of blue on this day. People are wearing and sharing the color to recognize and support the many people around us whose lives are touched by autism, and it will be the hue of choice from the Empire State Building to the Sydney Opera House to the International Space Station.

It is part of an overall Autism Awareness Month in April, and once again Major League Baseball is involved by teaming up with Autism Speaks, the world's leading autism science and advocacy organization. In a league-wide effort, all 30 clubs will raise awareness for the disorder during one home game in April or on another home date on their regular-season schedule.

Part of the proceeds from ticket sales will go toward Autism Speaks' efforts to increase awareness, fund innovative autism research and family services, and advocate for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Many of the MLB Autism Awareness games will provide special opportunities and a safe, friendly environment for families and individuals affected by autism, allowing them to experience a game like never before.

"Major League Baseball is proud to partner with Autism Speaks once again in order to raise awareness and support its mission of treating, preventing and curing autism," Commissioner Bud Selig said. "Many of our clubs are longstanding supporters of the autism community. As we begin our new season, it is a privilege for our entire industry to stand together behind Autism Speaks and highlight their remarkable work."

Working with Autism Speaks or other autism awareness organizations, many clubs will recognize local families during pregame ceremonies. Additionally, in select ballparks, members of the autism community can enjoy the game from designated "Quiet Zones" with a sensory-friendly environment, as well as participate in various traditional baseball activities, including throwing out the first pitch, singing the national anthem, announcing "Play Ball!" singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and performing "God Bless America."

This year, Autism Speaks created a "Guide to the Game," a visual story to help prepare children and adults with autism for a day at the ballpark by walking them through the full experience in detail ahead of time. The special accommodations enable many families affected by autism to attend their first MLB game.

"We are so grateful for Major League Baseball's league-wide support again this year," said Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks. "Thanks to the wonderful work of each team's staff and volunteers, last year thousands of families from the autism community enjoyed a ballpark experience for the first time. The sensory-friendly accommodations and the ability to participate in pregame activities made it possible for our families to enjoy America's favorite pastime and watch their favorite team. We know our families will be thrilled to return to the ballpark this season."

The 30 games range from the first one this Friday between the Marlins and Padres in Miami to the Yankees' home game against Cleveland on Aug. 9.

Last season, more than 30 Autism Awareness events took place in MLB ballparks, resulting in thousands of dollars from game ticket sales that went toward Autism Speaks' efforts.

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders -- autism spectrum disorders -- caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by communication difficulties, social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. An estimated one in 68 children in the U.S. is now on the autism spectrum -- a 78-percent increase in five years that is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

"People with autism want to go to the store, to a restaurant, to a baseball game," said Red Sox senior vice president Larry Cancro, whose daughter Lisa, 24, was diagnosed with autism as a youth. "A family wants to live their life like every other typical family. The fact that MLB is trying to learn how they can accommodate families with this better, because it's a massive number, it means they're trying to reach people who to date have not been able to come out to the ballpark."

 Club recognition dates:

  • Miami Marlins -- Friday, April 4
  • Oakland Athletics -- Saturday, April 5
  • Pittsburgh Pirates -- Sunday, April 6
  • San Diego Padres -- Friday, April 11
  • Baltimore Orioles -- Saturday, April 12
  • Milwaukee Brewers -- Saturday, April 12
  • Cincinnati Reds -- Sunday, April 13
  • Philadelphia Phillies -- Monday, April 14
  • Texas Rangers -- Wednesday, April 16
  • Detroit Tigers -- Friday, April 18
  • Colorado Rockies -- Saturday, April 19
  • Toronto Blue Jays -- Thursday, April 24
  • Houston Astros -- Saturday, April 26
  • Arizona Diamondbacks -- Sunday, April 27
  • New York Mets -- Sunday, April 27
  • Washington Nationals -- Sunday, April 27
  • Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- Monday, April 28
  • Boston Red Sox -- Saturday, May 3
  • Kansas City Royals -- Sunday, May 4
  • Minnesota Twins -- Sunday, May 18
  • San Francisco Giants -- Tuesday, May 27
  • St. Louis Cardinals -- Friday, May 30
  • Chicago White Sox -- Saturday, May 31
  • Chicago Cubs -- Wednesday, June 4
  • Tampa Bay Rays -- Saturday, June 7
  • Atlanta Braves -- Sunday, June 15
  • Los Angeles Dodgers -- Tuesday, June 17
  • Cleveland Indians -- Wednesday, June 18
  • Seattle Mariners -- Sunday, July 13
  • New York Yankees -- Saturday, Aug. 9
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of Read and join other baseball fans on his community blog.