Grosse Pointe teen wins fight with Little League to use yellow ball
Grosse Pointe Woods — Ryan Huizdos just wanted to play baseball.
He never meant to take on the world’s largest youth sports organization, have the group adopt a policy helping children with disabilities and, in the process, be hailed as a hero.
All that happened after Little League International told Ryan in 2015 he couldn’t use a yellow baseball because it didn’t comply with the rules.
He has albinism, a rare disorder that hinders his vision, so it’s easier for him to see a fluorescent yellow ball.
He didn’t have grandiose goals when he took on the Little League. Like he tells everyone, he wanted to do what millions of children do without a second thought — play baseball.
“It’s just baseball,” he said. “I’ve been playing since I was 4.”
A former coach said Ryan showed a lot of gumption, both on and off the field. First he overcame his impairment and then defeated the Little League.
"He’s a tough kid,” said Tim Campbell, who coached Ryan when he was 9. “I wish I had nine Ryans on my team.”
Like most teens, Ryan, 16, isn’t crazy about being in the spotlight. He’s polite and reserved.
The son of a cop and teacher, he's also tough and smart. At Grosse Pointe North High School, where he’ll be a senior this year, he takes Advanced Placement classes and is in the National Honor Society.
He becomes most animated when talking about baseball. He enjoys playing it, watching it, the strategy, the skill.
“I love pretty much everything about it,” he said.
Albinism throws a curve
Albinism is an inherited condition where the body produces little or no melanin, a pigment that gives color to the hair, skin and eyes. As a result, Ryan is fair-haired and fair-skinned.
The lack of melanin also impairs the development of vision. Ryan wears glasses but they don’t completely fix the problem.
At school, he sits in front of class so he can see the board better. He uses an iPad so he can enlarge the words.
Ryan’s parents said they decided a long time ago they wouldn’t allow albinism to limit their children. One of Ryan’s two younger sisters, Lauren, 12, also has the condition.
In fact, Ryan once insisted on playing the outfield so he could show off his strong arm. John and Kelly Huizdos gave their blessing even though they knew it’s hard for him to see the ball in the sky.
Sure enough, during the next practice, Ryan missed catching a fly ball, which struck him in the head. His career as an outfielder was over. He returned to third base, where it’s easier to see the ball on the ground because it contrasts with the dirt and grass.
“We never wanted to hold them back,” said Kelly Huizdos. “Anything they want to try, just go for it.”
After Ryan began playing baseball at 4, his dad wrapped the ball in black electrical tape so it would be easier to see.
Two years later he was playing in a T-ball league when the coach suggested using a yellow ball. He has used one ever since.
When hitting, he can’t see a white baseball until it’s just a few feet away. He can see a yellow one as soon as it leaves the pitcher’s hand.
Baseball color dispute
The ball’s color was never an issue until Ryan was selected for an all-star team in 2015. He was going to represent the Grosse Pointe-Harper Woods League in a Little League tournament.
When registering the team for the district tournament, John Huizdos brought a yellow ball to show officials what he wanted to use but they said he needed to get permission from a Little League committee. The charter committee rejected his request.
“At this time there are no optic yellow baseballs approved and licensed by Little League,” Nina Pitt, the league’s regional director, wrote to the district.
The Huizdos family was dumbfounded, angry, heartbroken.
It was such a small request, they said. The ball is the same size and weight as a white one. It would be used only during the two or three times Ryan batted in the game. He used the yellow ball during the regular season.
John and Kelly Huizdos had always told their children they were no different from other kids. Here was the Little League telling him he couldn’t play at the same level as others.
A spokesman for the Little League said it originally rejected the yellow ball because it didn’t have enough time to ensure the ball met league specifications.
“At that time there was no approved optic yellow baseball for Little League play,” said the spokesman, Kevin Fountain.
Feds start investigation
The Huizdoses contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit to file a complaint under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The federal prosecutor wrote to the Little League, saying it was investigating the possible violation of Ryan’s civil rights.
It was too late to do anything about the tournament but before the start of the 2016 season, with the U.S. Attorney watching, the Little League approved a one-year waiver allowing a yellow ball to be used when Ryan was hitting.
Then, in 2017, the now-emboldened Huizdoses requested, and received, a two-year waiver that allowed the yellow ball to be used when Ryan was batting or in the field.
Meanwhile the Little League also began formalizing a procedure that would allow any player with a disability to apply for a waiver to league rules. The policy was adopted in 2017.
“We never imagined it getting this big,” said John Huizdos. “We just wanted to use a yellow baseball.”
Ryan provides inspiration
Ryan and his family always attend the biennial national conferences of the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation.
During this year’s conference, held in July in Kansas City, Ryan was treated like a celebrity.
Parents introduced their children with albinism to Ryan and called him an inspiration. He signed a yellow ball that was raffled off for a fundraiser. A woman talking with Kelly squealed with delight when she learned who her son was.
For a few days Ryan felt like his hero, former Detroit Tigers and current Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.
“All these young parents were coming up to me,” he said. “It was humbling.”
Alas, there also was a down side to fame.
NBC Nightly News came to Grosse Pointe Woods to do a segment on Ryan in June.
Before one of his games, the news program producers, with the cameras rolling, asked him to throw a ball from the pitcher’s mound. They asked him to do it again. And again. And again.
After 60 pitches, which is how many he throws during a game, his arm was getting tired. And Ryan was getting exasperated.
“They know we have a game to play, right?” he asked his dad.
This is Ryan’s final season in the Little League. He’s too old to play next year.
As for non-baseball stuff, he plans to become an attorney.
Despite his condition, he also wants to get a car. He’ll need to take a special class to learn how to drive with a telescopic lens. But first he needs to be evaluated to see if he’s even eligible for such a class.
“Whatever the challenge is,” he said, “there’s always a way to do something.”