Side of Ranch: Jay Heater
Britney Guertin, the director of public relations and social media for Grapevine Communications, turned a corner at Sarasota's Oak & Stone restaurant and caught the eye of Andrew Leibin.
That's saying something, too, since the teenager was sitting in front on a gigantic cheeseburger that had been hogging all his attention.
Guertin gave her young admirer a huge smile and motioned to him that a hug was in order. Leibin didn't waste any time, embracing her and matching her smile.
Seated at the table, Leibin's mom, Jaycie, explained the events.
"A girl," she said, nodding her head and laughing.
Her 17-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, is a definite ladies man, especially when he takes the field to play baseball in the Miracle League of Manasota.
"Each player has these two buddies," said Jaycie, who lives in Sarasota. "A lot of them are girls. Andrew's favorite part is the girls."
Jaycie and Andrew had come to Oak & Stone to talk about the restaurant's special event, OAKtoberfest, to be held Saturday, Oct. 14 from noon to midnight.
The event has the usual drawing points such as German street fare, a biergarten, and live music (The Supervillains begin at 9 p.m.). Jaycie wanted to make her pitch for the event because it is a fundraiser for The Miracle League.
If you haven't seen a game at the park, located at 6050 Longwood Run Blvd., Sarasota, you could get a great overview from Jaycie.
Whether it's politically correct to say or not, Jaycie said it's tough to find places where her son can feel "normal."
The Miracle League baseball field is such a place.
"It's amazing," Jaycie said. "If you have any type of disability, this league will take you. And baseball is such an all-American sport. Andrew has made tons of friends. Tim, Gilberto, Rock. It all has boosted his confidence. This is a chance for him to do something he is good at."
With Britney having left and the cheeseburger gone, I had a chance to ask Andrew about his game. So what kind of hitter are you?
"Big," he said with that ever-present smile.
Jaycie explained. When a "Big" hitter comes to the plate, all the buddies on the field go on guard because the ball could come screaming from home plate. Andrew has connected on a few home runs.
His league, for 17 and under kids, doesn't begin again until the spring while an adult league is currently competing in its fall season. The Miracle League park is completely flat so it is wheelchair accessible and friendly to blind players. The field surface is rubberized and soft.
Jaycie challenges anyone to attend a game at The Miracle League and not be emotionally moved.
"The moms have to wear sunglasses because of the tears," she said.
A game is emotional for several reasons. The first, of course, is seeing the pure joy in the eyes of the participants. Next, the games give parents a 45-minute break from their supervisory responsibilities.
Next, Jaycie said she is astounded by the humanity on display.
"Those kids are the most kind, patient kids you've ever seen. The first time they come, they are a little nervous. But by the time they leave, it's high fives all around."
She was talking about the Sarasota and Manatee county high school students who donate their time to be buddies. The compassion is amazing. You will cry."
Patrick Goeser, Oak & Stone's assistant general manager, has been to the games.
"It is such a great expression of community," he said. "It was a lot of joy and happiness. With everything going on, it was refreshing."
Goeser notes that those who attend OAKtoberfest are requested to make a $5 donation to The Miracle League. Those who make a $10 donation receive a commemorative stein.
Jaycie and Andrew will be there, and since it will be a Saturday, Andrew will be wondering why his team isn't playing.
That's OK, though, because at OAKtoberfest, there will be plenty of girls.