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Umpire breaks Little League barrier by working game in wheelchair

Long time umpire Jaimie Erskine is teaching some players lessons that will stay with them long after they've left the field.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — The sound of the ball and the bat, camaraderie and friendly competition. 

There's something wonderful about playing Little League.

At a girls All Star game between South Portland and Westbrook, at Pine Street Field in South Porltand, it was special for another reason: Jaimie Erskine.

"I've been around baseball my whole life," Erskine said.

Four years ago, Jaimie was diagnosed with Polyarteritis Nodosa, a rare disease that restricts oxygen and blood flow to major organs. 

"At first, I thought it was a life sentence."

Erskine, a long time umpire who was selected to work an Eastern Region Tournament in Bristol, Connecticut and a Little League World Series in Portland, Oregon, hasn't been on a baseball field since his diagnosis. 

That is, until this past spring.

"One day, I got this letter in the mail, and I'm like, 'What the heck is this?'"

Jaimie's wife, Belinda, read him the letter from Little League International.

"When she told me I was approved to umpire again from my chair, I cried. I was just so happy because I was getting back a part of my life I thought was gone forever."

Bill Finley, a longtime umpire and current district administrator, wanted Jaimie back on the field.

"He's been a great volunteer and an umpire for 20, 23 years" Finley said.

Finley decided to approach Little League baseball. The request went through its charter committee, and ultimately, they agreed.

"When Little League International told us we could do it, as long as we had three umpires on the field, my first thought was, 'Let's get him out there.'"

Erksine is the first umpire ever to be granted permission to work first base using a wheelchair. His first game was on Saturday, May 18 in Falmouth.

"The kids all came over to me and fist pumped me, thanked me for being there," Erskine recalled. "And I just felt that feeling of being part of something again."

South Portland and Westbrook players thought having an umpire in a wheelchair work their game was amazing.

"It says, even though something is stopping you, you can do anything," said South Portland shortstop, 10-year-old Jillian Edgar.

"It's really cool to see an ump in a wheelchair, because you know it shows you can do whatever you want," Westbrook catcher Emma Boulette, who is turning 11 years old, added. 

Erskine is not only back enforcing the rules. He's also helping to teach the ultimate lesson -- that in baseball and life, it's not whether you win or lose. It's how you play the game.

A GoFundMe page has been set up by Maine District 6 Little League Staff. They are trying to raise money to buy a wheelchair-accessible van for Erskine and his family. 

Erskine says he is making progress in physical therapy and hopes one day he'll be able to stand, once again, on the baseball field.


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