Aug. 28, 2008
BY BRENDAN DOWDING / INDEPENDENT STAFF WRITER
KINGSTON - There's no question that University of Rhode Island head baseball coach Jim Foster was a good hitter during his playing career. After all, you don't spend 10 years in minor league baseball without getting your fair share of hits along the way. But while Foster had no trouble connecting with fastballs on the field, it was a curveball off the field that he really had to adjust to.
Foster's 4-year-old daughter Delaney has autism. She's been battling symptoms of the disease since she was 15 months old, but thanks to an early diagnosis from the family's doctor, Delaney began treatment at a very young age.
"Luckily we had a really good pediatrician, we've been very fortunate," Foster said. "And my wife [Narelle] is dedicated. She reads everything. You really have to go to battle for your kids. You really want to make sure they can get all the help they can."
"It's one of those things that until it affects someone you love it's just a word," said Foster's wife, Narelle. "The big thing for us is that Delaney is four and a half. Really, in a lot of ways, she's on the same level as her brother [Bo] who is one and a half."
Delany suffers from a milder form of Autism than many children, however, and for that, the Fosters feel blessed.
"Autism is something that's a disorder," Narelle Foster said. "There's nothing mental about it and [Delaney] is incredibly athletic. Her main problem is that she has a major speech delay. There are maybe 10 words she uses all the time. That's the biggest thing we have to help her with."
"At first you feel bad, then you think there's a lot of other people out there who have children with severe autism," Jim Foster said. "You've just got to work with the kids. It's a lot like coaching. You've got to put the effort in."
As the Fosters do their best to help their own daughter in her fight against autism, they recognize that there are other families out there that need their assistance as well. On Sept. 21 at Colt State Park in Bristol, Foster and the URI baseball team will take part in the "Walk Now for Autism" event. The Rams participated in last year's walk, too, helping to raise more than $280,000 for autism research.
"Last year, we showed up and it was our first year doing it and we all wore our URI baseball shirts," Foster said. "[This year], we are going to get there early and volunteer."
Foster said he hoped his team would be able to help out with the event and walk in it, but was more than willing to do whatever necessary to make the day a success. He and his team are looking to raise $5,000 in donations. Autism Speaks - the organization which runs the event - will take 75 cents from every dollar raised and put it to research, awareness and outreach programs.
"URI baseball will set a goal for $5,000 to contribute," Foster said. "Hopefully we will get a little bit more and break that barrier. My personal goal is to raise a half a million dollars for the cause this year ... I tell people, 'URI baseball will be there for you wherever and whenever you need us.'"
Being the Rhody baseball coach has allowed Foster to come into contact with many people who are battling with the same problem he and his family are dealing with.
"I'm fortunate to have a job where I get to talk a lot of people," he said. "It's something that's hit home and we just want to support it whenever we can. It's like an epidemic. We want to get the awareness out and we will do anything we can."
Make no mistake about it. Beating autism ranks as high on Foster's list as beating the team in the other dugout.
"We won 31 games last year, but this is just as important to me, helping other people," he said. "These kids are precious, beautiful kids. They just need professionals working with them to challenge them. They just need to get the right help."
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