Baylor baseball legend receives national honor for his work with special needs kids
Baseball fans from Waco to Denver (and beyond) remember Jason Jennings as a star ballplayer who was college baseball’s first consensus National Player of the Year, then the National League Rookie of the Year when he arrived in the majors.
For children with special needs, though, Jennings’ impact goes far beyond his athletic prowess.
The Baylor baseball legend recently earned the Keeper of the Game Award, an honor given to individuals or families in the baseball community who serve those with special needs. Jennings, whose son is on the autism spectrum, was presented the award by the Keeper of the Game Foundation, an organization whose mission is to provide athletes with disabilities and special needs unique baseball experiences that foster their growth and love of baseball.
It’s a passion that goes way back with Jennings. While playing for the Colorado Rockies from 2001-06, he helped fund the Jason Jennings Adaptive Field, a baseball diamond with a rubberized surface and flat bases, in the Denver area. The field is specially designed to accommodate those with special needs and allow them to play the game. A 2020 Denver Post article neatly captured the park’s impact:
“No matter what kind of a hit these kids get, they light up like a Christmas tree, whether it’s a big hit to the outfield or a tiny little blip barely past home plate,” said Monica Greenfield, whose 17-year-old son Matthew has been playing at the field for nine years. “It doesn’t matter if they’re in a wheelchair being pushed, or if they’re like our son who can walk and run but it’s not a typical run. You just can’t help but smile watching these kids play, and neither can they.”
A Baylor Athletics Hall of Famer, Jennings is considered by many to be the best player in Baylor baseball history. A two-time All-American and two-time Team USA star, Jennings was the consensus National Player of the Year in 1999 after he hit .386 with 17 home runs AND compiled a 13-2 record with 176 strikeouts as both a DH and the Bears’ ace pitcher. He was drafted in the first round by the Colorado Rockies that summer, and three years later was the National League Rookie of the Year.
His nine-year big-league career ended in 2009, but he has stayed close to the game in meaningful ways, serving with The Miracle League, the Michael Young Foundation, and MLB’s Baseball Assistance Team (B.A.T.) campaign for teamwork, caring and sharing. Today, he runs Pastime Training Center, a baseball/softball practice facility in Frisco.
Sic ’em, Jason Jennings!