By Tyler Hendrickson

During the 2023 high school baseball season, the Wilson Bruins have experienced their share of thrilling wins and gut-wrenching losses. But on Saturday afternoons, everyone’s a winner.

That’s because every Saturday since early March, a handful of Bruin baseball players have been donating their time with Playmakers—a local nonprofit that offers “sports and enrichment programs for kids and adults with special needs.”

The result has been a rewarding experience for Wilson’s coaches and players, who’ve gotten to share their love of baseball with members of the community in need of a helping hand out on the diamond.

“It’s really cool working with the kids because they get so much fun out of it,” said Wilson varsity player Ben Hoxie. “You can see how excited they are getting to play with the big high school kids. I feel like when I was that age, I would feel the same way.”

Playmakers also offers programming in basketball and dance, but the spring is baseball season. Every Saturday the organization puts on friendly games at McGaugh Elementary in Seal Beach, where each athlete is partnered up with a “buddy” to help them play the game.

So far, the Bruins have enjoyed seeing the sport from a different perspective and sharing a unique experience with their teammates and new friends.

“We’ve had a lot of laughs out there,” said Wilson JV player Ryan Dissman of his experience volunteering with his teammates. “Helping out the kids was really, really cool. And I mean, it made their day and it made our day. … Overall, it’s a really cool experience. Helping the kids and seeing them smile is really awesome.”

Ben’s mom, Claire Hoxie, was the one who formulated the idea for this year’s Wilson team to get involved with Playmakers. It all started with a simple Google search, and quickly turned into a season-long commitment for the entire baseball program.

“We started with varsity, but now we have JV boys and freshman boys volunteering as well,” Claire said. “It’s great, and they all just say how much they enjoyed the day. It made them feel so good helping these kids. That seems to be unanimous.”

The program has grown to include members of the Wilson softball team and the Lakewood High baseball team who’ve also volunteered their time. Claire said she hopes that trend will continue and that more local teams will send players to help out and gain from the experience. She said it doesn’t take long for players to get comfortable in the environment.

“With all the players, the moment they show up, I think they’re all a little unsure what to do, or how’s the right way to interact; but it seems like it takes them five minutes and then they’re all into it,” she explained. “And what I see most of all, from the baseball players as well as the special needs kids, is huge smiles on their faces the whole time.”

Wilson head coach Andy Hall got involved from the very beginning, and says it’s been a rewarding experience not just for his players, but for himself as well.“I went down there for Opening Day, and I was just planning to make an appearance and stay for an hour. I stayed for three-and-a-half hours,” Hall said. “It’s a small investment of time and energy for a huge return. To see the smiles on those kids’ faces and know what that means to the parents … it’s a great thing and I plan on us continuing to try and be involved with it.”

The regular season is just wrapping up for the Bruins, with the CIF-SS playoffs starting next week. No matter how this latest high school season ends for Wilson, they’ve already made lasting memories with some special ballplayers.

Ben Hoxie said he’s been volunteering every Saturday he can, and hopes to work with Playmakers more during the summer. He has dreams of one day being a baseball coach, but for now he’s dedicating his time to make a positive impact on others.

“One of the older kids, he’s in a wheelchair, and he would get so mad after we finished playing because he would tell his parents all day that he was just too excited to go see his friend Ben,” he shared. “It makes me so happy to see that, because making people’s day and doing stuff like that is amazing. It feels really good.”

For more information on Playmakers and ways to get involved, visit their website.