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Rox's players touched by Fantasy Camp for Kids

'The way they look at life is the way we should look at life'
MLB.com

DENVER -- Seven-year-old Lily Spletzer didn't think she would hit the ball when it was her turn at the plate on Thursday morning. She told her mom, Makayla Allison, on the drive to Jason Jennings Adaptive Field that she didn't think she could.

But on the first pitch, Spletzer made contact. And not even Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez could catch it. Spletzer beamed as she ran to first base.

DENVER -- Seven-year-old Lily Spletzer didn't think she would hit the ball when it was her turn at the plate on Thursday morning. She told her mom, Makayla Allison, on the drive to Jason Jennings Adaptive Field that she didn't think she could.

But on the first pitch, Spletzer made contact. And not even Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez could catch it. Spletzer beamed as she ran to first base.

"I totally did not think I was going to hit that ball," Spletzer said with a smile on her face -- one that didn't go away all morning.

Splezter has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a connective-tissue disorder that forces her to wear knee braces when she participates in activities. On Thursday, she sported her hot pink braces as she went from station to station at the Fantasy Camp for Kids clinic.

The Fantasy Camp for Kids is a nonprofit that gives children with special needs the opportunity to play baseball. Every summer since 2008, the Rockies have helped with a clinic at the Jason Jennings Adaptive Field. On Thursday, Gonzalez, along with Ryan McMahon and Yency Almonte, led hitting and pitching stations for around 60 children from the Special Olympics of Colorado and Big D's Warriors (an adaptive baseball league). Each participant had a Rockies hat and a jersey with their name on the back, as they ran around the field in the sun.

"Every year, we're looking for kids who might not get to experience baseball in a traditional way," Dallas Davis, the Rockies' assistant director of community affairs, said. "This is vital into what we want to do. Our mission as an organization is not only to be champions on the field, but in our community as well. And we love to do this."

Rockies players love it, too. Gonzalez, McMahon and Almonte all said their favorite part of the morning was seeing the joy the children had when they ran around the bases, hit a ball over the fence or made a pitch at the target. And they all said they learned something from the players they were teaching.

"They're all super happy and super excited," Almonte said. "The way they look at life is the way we should look at life."

Gonzalez agreed: "The way the kids had their smile after they made contact, the way they had so much joy as they ran around the bases -- it brings you back to when you were a kid. I know it's our job, but we're all doing the game we love. It reminds you that you need to love this game."

The camp impacted everyone on the field, from the participants to the Rockies' players, from the staff to the parents. It was a chance to have the children interact with others, be active and be supported by everyone around them.

"Here, they don't feel different," Allison said. "They're the same. We get to see our kids truly have fun and have a good time."

Allison had a good time as well, not only because she got to watch her daughter play, but because she was able to build relationships with other parents who know what she's going through as a parent of a child with special needs.

"They get it when your kid hits the ball for the first time and that look that you give them, they can see it in your eyes," Allison said. "They're so excited for you. They really do just get it."

When she talked about the way her daughter hit that ball and the experiences she had Thursday morning, Allison had tears in her eyes.

"To see her hit that ball the first time out, it means a lot," Allison said. "She may not have had that opportunity before."

Anne Rogers is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow her on Twitter at @anne__rogers.

Colorado Rockies