YAPHANK, N.Y. -- On Saturday afternoon, parents, family, friends and a mix of practicing young players crowded behind the backstop. Camcorders and iPhones were aimed toward the mound, zoomed in between the chain-linked fence. Everyone oohed and aahed about the 12-year-old on the mound who was spinning fastballs and curveballs and later taking hacks at the plate.
Dawson Batts pitched, fielded and hit with the best of his Baseball Youth NYBC All-Star Challenge teammates. Back home in Fayetteville, N.C., he's the team's leader and arguably its most talented player. He fits right in, except for one thing: He has just one arm.
Batts was born with only a right arm, but since he started whacking tee balls at the age of 3, it's never made him think twice about playing the game he loves. Instead, he's turned it into his greatest asset. He'll tell you that he can do more things with one arm than most kids his age can do with two. So far, he's absolutely right.
Nobody seems prouder than his mother, Erica Batts, who smiles when asked about all the attention Dawson brings with him to each place they travel.
"We've had several people ask if they could video [him] in our town, and we said, 'Yeah, it's fine,'" said Erica. "Everybody flocked over here. He's used to [the stares]. I'd rather have him be out in the field. I don't like him on the mound, it just gets me nervous, but he did OK, he shook it off.
"He adapts well. As long as he wants to play, we'll do it."
How Dawson plays is remarkable. When patrolling first base, he'll use his glove to field the ball, and if he must snap out a throw, Dawson tucks the glove under his chin, quickly takes out the ball and lasers it to his next target. When he pitches, Dawson places his mitt behind the rubber and barehands throws back from his catcher.
"I was just playing around one day and figured it out," Dawson said of learning how to transfer the ball from his glove.
Hitting is simpler to explain, no less easy to perform. Instead of hitting righty, he stands in the lefty's batter's box, using his lead arm to swing. Dawson even launched a long ball during Friday's Home Run Derby.
Dawson gave up a few runs on the hill Saturday, but he still helped the star-studded East team beat the West, 8-4, on a rain-soaked day. Still, a tough outing in which he gave up a home run had little impact on Batts' perspective. As the only player selected from his travel team to join this Baseball Youth NYBC All-Star tournament, he's still relishing everything as he and his family are visiting New York for the first time.
"Amazing," said Dawson. "The city [and] the ballparks are amazing."
How he got the invitation was more special. Dawson's grandmother, Susan, is currently hosting Michael Bozarth, a center fielder from the St. Louis University, who plays in a college summer league team -- the Fayetteville Swampdogs -- in their hometown. Michael has since become Dawson's baseball aspiration, and he surprised Dawson at a pregame ceremony at the stadium, announcing over the loudspeaker that the 12-year-old had been chosen for the Baseball Youth NYBC All-Star Challenge in Long Island.
"[Bozarth] and Dawson have become inseparable," said Erica. "Everything about him. He wants to be like him, he wants to look like him. He wants to do everything. [Dawson] wanted to wear No. 15 today, because that's Michael's number. [Bozarth] would be here, but he's playing games. He's texting me throughout the games."
They hope to have Michael back for the summer next year, considering he's become an older brother to Dawson, going to games, as well as to the mall and barbershop. It's been a welcome addition that eases all the travelling, as many families at the Baseball Heaven complex have experienced.
As for Dawson, he has a clear plan for his life: playing baseball for North Carolina State and then getting drafted by the Red Sox, potentially becoming another Jim Abbott. His favorite player is Dustin Pedroia, because "he's the underdog," and it seems with each new level of baseball he tries, Dawson continues to grow out of that own label.
"He's more happy on the field than not doing anything," said Susan. "If he can't play ball, he's miserable. But as long as he's out there playing, he's happy go lucky. That's his life: the ballfield."
That seems to be the case for most of the All-Stars around the complex, but it's likely few would stay the course with his circumstances. Instead, Dawson appears to repeatedly motivate himself with the phrase printed on the back of every player's jersey: "Dream big." He certainly has.
Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.