That's what gets you.
And it gets you every time.
If you could take a picture of joy — pure, honest, sweet joy — it would be here on the Kerens softball field every June when the Central Texas Challenger League Series takes place.
Christmas mingles with sunshine on the brightest diamond in Texas, a true Field of Dreams for the kids who play baseball once a year, and for the people who love them and this two-game series of baseball games.
The kids played the first game on Saturday morning, and will finish this Saturday, wrapping up another inspirational season in the sun. There's not another game like this one. Kids from three counties — the mentally and physically challenged — come here every year, turning a simple softball diamond into a joyride around the bases, an inspiration that lifts hearts and often brings tears.
“I try not to, but I cry every year,'' said Shalocka Kamp, whose son Drake makes the trip around the bases in a wheelchair, pumping his tiny fists toward the heavens and lighting up the diamond with a smile for the ages.
Drake has been coming since the first game five years ago when the series was born from the love and passion of Deena Davis and her husband Braz, who are Drake's aunt and uncle. They wanted to do something, and didn't quite know what to do.
A simple idea has turned into an annual celebration that touches more and more every year.
“I can't believe it's been five years,'' said Deena, who has been a special education counselor for more than 19 years. “I never thought it would go this far. I never thought it would be this big. I thought it was our passion. Obviously, it's everybody's.
“It's just pure joy for them, pure joy for these kids,'' she said. “It's the best sporting event ever.''
The field of kids has grown and the field of volunteers has grown even more as the Buddy system has blossomed. Every child who plays in the game has a Buddy, a volunteer who helps the kids around the bases and in the field.
Deena knows exactly why the volunteers and support for the series has grown.
“We have so many volunteers ,'' she said. “Once somebody comes out here and sees this, they're caught. Once you see it, you want to come back. It makes you feel good. It makes you realize what's important in this world.''
Big Braz, who pitched in the Cubs organization, is on the mound every year, throwing pitches that are met with the euphoria that comes from kids who swing the bats with everything they have and run the bases with joy.
The voice of Kerens, Mikey Jennings, does the announcing and he puts his heart and soul into it, teasing the kids and joking with them.
Everyone who has been to the series the last couple of years knows Lane Brady, who runs the bases 10-feet-off-the ground with a giant smile the entire way. And when Lane comes home, he comes in with a monster head-first slide that captures everyone at the park.
Jennings kids him along: “Don't slide, Lane. Don't you do it,'' says Jennings over the PA system. But of course, Lane slides with unbridled enthusiasm, a bigger than life landing at home plate — every time. Lane jumps to his feet and pumps his fist. The crowd roars!
Laughter and tears fill the stands.
“It's just so great for these kids,'' said Blair Serna, whose son Adren played Saturday. “He's always wanting to participate. But there aren't many things like this.''
Adren's grandmother, Cathy Auerbach, was there Saturday, fighting back tears with her daughter.
“We've already cried,'' she said. “This gives them a chance to feel like other children. They see other children do things, and they want to do them, and don't get the chance.
'The world is full of kids with disabilities. They need more opportunities like this,'' she said. “You can take them to sporting events but they're always on the sidelines. This gives them a chance to be a team player. You really have to give it to the people who put this on.''
It's the second year Blair and Cathy and Arden have been in the series.
“The first year we cried the whole time,'' Blair said.
“We still do,'' Cathy added. “It just wells up in your chest. You have to let it go. They are so happy.''
Drake's mother Shalocka said that Drake can't wait for the games to get here.
“He starts talking about it at Christmas,'' she said. “He really looks forward to it every year. I wish we had more kids, just for them to get to experience what they don't get to do.''
“It's great,'' said Jim Stacey, whose son Clayton was playing in his first Challenger League game. “I've been involved in Special Olympics. Any time we can get to a sporting event like this it's a blessing. I think it's better for the parents than the kids. We get caught up in every day life, and we think we've got it tough. But you come here and see these kids. It makes them feel wanted by the community. I would say to anybody who has never been to this that it truly is a blessing.''
It will touch your heart.
Keenya Brown, who has been a Buddy, a helper with the kids every year since the series started, said she would never miss it.
“It makes me so happy to see them do what other kids get to do,'' said Brown, who is a student at Navarro College. “They are just full of joy. I wish it was more than just once a year. I just love it.''
It changes lives.
“I was at HEB and saw one of our kids in January who is in his last year with us,'' Deena said. “Saturday will be his last game. He is out of high school, and you need to be in school. We always have medals for the kids in the second game every year. We will do something special for two of our kids who are in their last year. He was telling me how much he is going to miss it, and how he looks forward to it every year.
“They all do.''