The longest distance between two points stretches from frozen gray midwinter Minnesota to the first baseball game of summer.

But winter will end, the pandemic will pass, and the 2021 baseball season is closer than it feels.

In Rochester, Jeremy De­laney is building a team. An alternative baseball team, where all are welcome and where Delaney's little boy might play one day, when he's old enough.

Delaney, a retired Army veteran, had no experience coaching a baseball team and he had no baseball team to coach.

What he had was a love of the game and the willingness to share it with others, like he shared it with his son Logan, age 9, who has brown hair, a big smile, and Down syndrome.

"To me, it's the great American sport," he said. "There's just something about going out to the freshly cut grass and the smell of hot dogs out there in the field. Just the atmosphere, when you walk out, that gets you super excited to watch the game or be part of the game."

Taylor Duncan wanted to be part of the game.

He knew what it was like to be benched by coaches who weren't sure how someone like him, on the autism spectrum, would fit in on the team. So the young man from Dallas, Ga., founded a league of his own.

"I call it an experience more than a league," said Duncan, 25. His nonprofit Alternative Baseball Organization offers teens and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities a chance to play ball.

"It's [about] building team character, building personal character, building strategical thinking skills and really working on those social skills," he said. "This is an opportunity to work, in a fun way, on skills that can be adapted off the diamond as well."

Alternative Baseball is a place anyone with special needs can come and know they won't be judged, they won't be picked last and they won't be alone.

The experience that started with Duncan and his hometown league has grown and grown and grown. Volunteer coaches, connected through his nonprofit, are organizing teams from Maine to Hawaii. He's hoping more volunteer coaches will step up in the Twin Cities and across Minnesota, like Coach Delaney did in Rochester.

"I told him, 'Sign me up,' " said Delaney, who spotted a TV news segment about the program a year ago. " 'I will make this work somehow.' "

Delaney started recruiting a year ago, only to have plans derailed by the pandemic that closed school, limited sports and scattered his potential players to a social distance.

He kept working to recruit players and coaches, line up donors and equipment, and hunt for a practice diamond the team could use for free when the snow melts.

"It looked a little bleak for a while there," as the weather got colder, infection rates spiked and Minnesota went back into lockdown. But warmer days are coming. More vaccine doses are coming. The 2021 alternative baseball season is coming.

"We are determined," De­laney said again, "to make this work."

For more information about starting or joining an Alternative Baseball team, visit If you're in Rochester and want to join Coach Delaney's team or help him out, you can reach him at 612-673-4008

Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @stribrooks