BRIDGEWATER — Sean Green has played for 16 different professional baseball clubs, but at home he is part of a two-person team committed to something far more significant than wins and losses.
Green, a former New York Mets relief pitcher now with the Somerset Patriots, and his wife Christina are active volunteers in autism-related events and foundations. The younger of the couple’s two children, 3½-year-old Owen, was diagnosed with autism last July.
“We have a strong faith, and we know that Owen is autistic for a reason,” Christina said. “We feel fortunate to be able to walk this walk with him. We’re going to figure it out together. We know that Owen is going to succeed in a lot of areas. We just have to find his strengths.”
The entire Green family recently joined other members of the Patriots as guests at Camp Okee Sunokee, a summer program run by the Somerset County Park Commission for six- to 14-year-olds who suffer from Asperger’s Syndrome – a form of autism – and learning disabilities. Autism affects one in every 88 children.
“There has been a real big learning curve for us,” Sean said. “It’s one of those things where each kid with autism is completely different (from another). There is no way of knowing what it’s going to be like for Owen 10 years down the road or even one year down the road.”
Owen’s early diagnosis did not come as a surprise to the Greens, who began researching possible causes for his delayed speech and lack of social interaction. The reserved personality lies in stark contrast to that of couple’s highly outgoing 6-year-old daughter Olivia, though the siblings still have formed a strong bond.
“It’s tough because there are a lot of times when he gets upset and you don’t know why,” Sean said. “But he is just a blast to be around. It’s amazing once you start thinking the way he is thinking.”
For the camp’s organizer, SCPC Therapeutic Recreation manager Dina Trunzo, amazement comes from watching the interaction that occurs on the most anticipated day of the six-week-long calendar.
“Because all the kids are from Somerset County or the surrounding areas, these players are their heroes,” Trunzo said. “The guys are natural at it. They’re playing with them and joking with them. There is high-fiving and fist pumps – things that are not an impromptu part of their lives.”
From an educational standpoint, the visit to Camp Okee Sunokee was just as beneficial for the Greens as it was for the 40 enrollees who practiced baseball as a way of improving motor skills and self-esteem.
“The managers at the camp had a great grasp on what autism is and how to make things special for the kids,” Christina said. “The kids all felt such a bond with each other, and Sean and I are around enough autistic kids to know that is hard to do. The counselors understand that this sets them up for real-life situations. It was very eye-opening for us.”
It wasn’t the first significant autism-support experience for the Greens, who also are involved with the “Beading to Beat Autism” cause (www. beadingtobeatautism.org) started by a young girl with an autistic brother from a family based near the Greens’ offseason home in Louisville, Ky.
“We feel blessed to be in a situation where Owen can get the proper therapy,” said Sean, who debuted with the 2006 Seattle Mariners and pitched for the 2009-10 Mets. “We try to reach out as much as we can. There are a lot of good resources on the Internet, but talking to other parents who have gone through it really helped us. ”