Baseball teams are always looking for new ways to accommodate families and individuals impact by autism. The Staten Island Yankees (Short Season A; NY-Penn League) are involved in that initiative this year, as they have announced that they will have an autism suite available for fans to rent at select games during the 2017 season. Yankees president and operating partner Will Smith said feedback from the community led to the idea.
“We listened to local organizations including On Your Mark, which helps individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, and they do a group outing every year here,” Smith said. “We looked into other ways we could use our inventory and thought this would be a great idea.”
This season the suites will be available on June 25, July 1, July 2, July 23, August 20, August 27, and September 1. Smith said that those dates were chosen because the Yankees wanted to pick days that would have minimal loud noises and distractions.
“When we looked at the dates, we tried to get dates where there weren’t fireworks or they are day games where the lights won’t be as distracting,” Smith said. “On those days, we’ll try to make it as quiet as possible. Being a short-season team, our season isn’t very long but we tried to get as many dates as possible.”
As our own Jesse Goldberg-Strassler wrote last June, both major and minor league teams have participated in autism awareness days by creating sensory-friendly environments. This has often included keeping audio levels down, and offering designated quiet areas.
Smith said that the Yankees reached out to other teams who have autism programs in place.
“Autism nights are a growing trend in Minor League Baseball. They gave us ideas for what we could do. We’ll start with one suite on each date and are limiting it to 12 people based on the feedback we got. The program isn’t well defined yet and it will be a lot of learning and changing to fit families’ needs as we go forward.”
He added that even though the news of the suite hasn’t been out very long, the reaction from the community has been positive.
“We’ve already had multiple season ticket holders ask us about it,” Smith said. “Some of them were in tears because they have family members who don’t react well in a traditional ballpark setting and they thought they could never bring them to a game or that it didn’t work for their family.”
And with those kinds of reactions, Smith said he thinks the Yankees will continue to evolve and provide an environment that not only entertains but welcomes fans from all backgrounds.
“We want to spread the message that we can host programs to include everyone. We want people to think of us as another place they can go that is accepting,” Smith said. “We want to show that we can build and design programs that are accepting, open, diverse, and reflect our community. This is just one way we can do that.”
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