On May 1, 1960, a Sunday, the Chicago White Sox debuted the exploding scoreboard following an Al Smith home run. As the Chicago Tribune reported, “Cheers of 29,586 spectators still were ringing in their ears and their eyes were half-blinded by the multicolored send-off given them by the electrical monster in center field.”
On June 12, 2016, also a Sunday, the scoreboard at the White Sox’s U.S. Cellular Field showed fine fireworks graphics, but there were no actual fireworks — let alone an electrical monster or half-blinded eyes. It was “Autism Awareness Day” in Chicago.
Every team in the Major Leagues has such a day scheduled during the 2016 season, the result of a partnership between Major League Baseball and Autism Speaks now in its fourth season.
Minor League Baseball teams have joined the cause. The San Antonio Missions (Class AA; Texas League) opened their 2016 season with a Saturday night benefit for the Autism Community Network, becoming a yearly April tradition for the ballclub. (April is Autism Acceptance Month, developed by Paula Durbin Westby in 2011.) The Cedar Rapids Kernels will adorn themselves in Autism Awareness Christmas Jerseys to benefit the East Central Iowa Autism Society on June 24th, two days after hosting the Midwest League All-Star Classic.
As the National Autistic Society informs on its website, “Many people on the autism spectrum have difficulty processing everyday sensory information. Any of the senses may be over- or under-sensitive, or both, at different times…. Too much information can cause stress, anxiety, and possibly physical pain.”
Hence, the sight of fireworks upon the videoboard – without the usual noise or flashes. The White Sox also set aside sensory friendly seats and designated quiet areas at both the club level and at the 200 level. The announcements and music that usually roared through the stadium speakers were turned down low for the designated sections.
“The ballpark can get loud regardless of having fireworks and music,” wrote White Sox account executive Scott Gbur. “It is important to have the quiet rooms in place for those times when the noise becomes too much, so these families have a safety net.”
“The most rewarding thing about the day was talking to a mom in the quiet room briefly who had brought her kids up there. They would have had to leave the game if the quiet room wasn’t there for them. They were able to calm down up there and continue enjoying the ball park. That is what it is all about.”
The next scheduled Autism Awareness Day game is on July 10th in Cleveland, followed by the Tampa Bay Rays (July 16th), New York Yankees (August 6th) and Los Angeles Dodgers (August 9th). More information about Autism Speaks may be found at AutismSpeaks.org.