Phils make Special Olympians' day

Special Olympians enjoy day of fun at the park

PHILADELPHIA -- This was a day five athletes representing Special Olympics Delaware will never forget.

The kids were beaming about being chosen to participate in the first Special Olympics event as part of the Phillies' Winter Tour on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. Long before they arrived at the ballpark to meet Phillies catcher Chris Coste and pitcher Adam Eaton, they were picked up outside Frawley Stadium, home of the Class A Wilmington (Del.) Blue Rocks, in a limousine.

"That was cool," said Danny Howell, 9, of Wilmington, who was accompanied by his brother Steve, 12.

Doug Till, 10, of Wilmington, Julia Hensley, 10, of Middletown and Katrina Doerr, 11, of Newark also represented Special Olympics Delaware with their coach, Mary Moore.

Special Olympics Delaware is an organization that changes lives by promoting understanding, acceptance and inclusion between people with and without intellectual disabilities. Through year-round sports training, athletic competition and related programs conducted for more than 2,700 children and adults with intellectual disabilities, the organization creates a community which is able to celebrate everyone.

Steven Howell, father of Danny and Steve, said his sons were ecstatic with the whole event.

"They woke up at 5 a.m. today, which is earlier than usual," he said. "This is better than Christmas to them."

Upon arriving at Citizens Bank Park, the group was escorted to the Phillies' clubhouse, where they were given Phils jerseys and hats.

"Where's my jersey?" quipped Eaton, who was recently signed. "I haven't gotten one yet."

When asked whether they wanted to see where reigning National League MVP Ryan Howard's locker was, the kids quickly gathered. They tested out his bats and checked out his cubicle.

From there, the group was taken to the indoor batting cage, where Coste showed the kids how to hit off a tee. Eaton also gave them a lesson on pitching and answered all their questions. As that was happening, the Phanatic appeared.

"He's my favorite Phillie," Danny Howell said.

"What about me?" joked Eaton.

The group continued on to the field where a sign reading "The Phillies Welcome Delaware Special Olympics" greeted them on the scoreboard.

And before the kids had a chance to eat their pizza, which awaited them in the visitors' clubhouse, the Phanatic tried to walk off with a whole pizza.

"Phanatic, come on, put that back for the kids," joked Scott Palmer, the Phillies' director of media and public affairs. "That's for the kids."

Coste said that interacting with the kids is something he enjoys doing.

"Not every kid gets a chance to see the field from ground level and meet professional baseball players," Coste said. "It was definitely a good day for them and for us."

It was a day that will be etched in their minds for a while.

"They're coming out of their skin," said Moore. "They're real excited and they couldn't wait to go."

They didn't want to go home, either.

While the kids were finishing their pizza and talking with Eaton and Coste, hitting coach Milt Thompson and employee assistance professional Dickie Noles stopped in to visit.

The impact of the event was evident with the continuous smiles on the kids' faces. In fact, Till said his cousin, Michael Schell, was jealous.

"He said, 'I wish I was you,'" Till said.

Steven Howell understands why after spending the day at the event.

"They can tell their friends they were there, standing on the field and being with the Phanatic," he said. "It's just not an everyday occurrence."

Andy Jasner is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.