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Central Springfield's No. 1 Fan

For seven years, Stacy Clark has been cheering on and inspiring local Little Leaguers.

<bt>Stacy Clark's favorite part of a baseball game is watching the interaction between the pitcher and the batter. It's a simple dance — one leads and the other follows, but the outcome is unknown. Will it be a home run hit or three solid strikes? Stacy’s experience has proved to her that this is the glory of baseball.

Stacy knows baseball and baseball loves Stacy, especially the Central Springfield Little League.

"Stacy is so enthusiastic. She's so expressive, you can tell how excited she is," Bev Bronder, a Little League parent, said.

If Stacy could play baseball, she would. But Stacy has a rare disease called Angelman's Syndrome. Angelman's is a chromosome 15 disorder characterized by mental and motor retardation, epilepsy, inability to walk or talk, a happy disposition and frequent laughter.

A fan of CSLL for seven years, Stacy, 13, has almost never missed a game, and she's always at the field. This year, the CSLL New York Yankees adopted Stacy and made her an honorary member of their team. In return for the honor, she's been to every game, sitting on the first base line and cheering her teammates on.

IN ADDITION to not being able to walk or speak, Stacy has cerebral palsy on her right side, seizures and microcephaly. When she was born, the doctors said she would not live three days.

When she was young, Stacy's mother abandoned her, and now her grandparents, Donna and Jim Wendling of Springfield, care for her. They were 63-years-old when 2-year-old Stacy came into their lives.

"I bought one of those cute red wagons and put her in it when Jim came to meet us at the hospital," said Donna Wendling. "When he got there, she was sitting in her wagon, looking up at him, with the biggest smile on her face. Jim looked at me and said, ‘I give up, how could I refuse?’"

That was the beginning of it all. The Wendlings moved across the country from California to Springfield, so that Stacy could be near her mother and sister, even though the Wendlings now cared for her.

"She doesn’t see her mom and older sister even though they live here," Donna Wendling said. "She's still very upset that her mom left her. When we drive by the street she used to live on, her head turns and looks down it, and she gets a sad look in her eyes. You can tell she misses them."

ELEVEN YEARS LATER, the Wendlings continue to spend all their time with Clark, making sure she is comfortable. Since the baseball field is where Stacy is happiest, her grandparents bring her to Trailside Park regularly.

“I bring my boys out in the winter for practice, and she’ll be there sitting in her van, watching my kids bat,” said Bob Atwell, CSLL assistant chief umpire.

Stacy also enjoys walking or riding around the field.

"We come in the dead of winter, when it's raining, snowing, when no one is here. We also go to Byron Park, and we watch West Springfield Little League games as well. She's known all over Springfield," Donna Wendling said.

Stacy also plays for the Challengers, a baseball organization that's part of Eddie's Club. Eddie's Club is a non-profit organization geared toward giving boys and girls ages 4-21 that have any form of disability, an opportunity to participate in a supervised, volunteered-based, activity and recreational program.

“Her grandfather goes up and bats with her. Then he shuffles around the bases,” Donna Wendling said. “The Challengers play every Sunday, and she’s always there.”

When Stacy's not on the field, she attends school at Key Center and receives physical therapy twice a week. This summer, she's taking sign language classes.

"I can tell she gets very frustrated when I can't figure out what she wants right away. We have to do things by process of elimination. Is it your ears? No? Your nose? No? Legs? No? and so on. It's very time consuming," Donna Wendling said. "I'm hoping with the sign classes, we’ll be able to communicate better."

THE WENDLINGS have a helper from after school until bed time and also on the weekends. Other than that, they take care of Stacy full time.

"On the weekends, I make the nurses leave at 3 p.m. because they have lives, too,” Donna Wendling said. “But it’s hard. It takes two of us to bathe her. She can’t feed herself, we have to feed her. We also walk her a lot so she's not sitting all the time. We need to keep her limber.”

About two weeks ago, Stacy was in the hospital again. The Wendlings said they just take it one day at a time.

“Stacy has almost died three times. Life expectancy for people with Angelman’s is no more than 16,” Donna Wendling said. Despite all this, Stacy recovered and is doing well.

"The doctors at Johns Hopkins said that with everything she's got in that body, she's doing marvelous," Donna Wendling said.

Two weeks ago, the baseball season was still going strong, too. It looked as if Stacy might miss her first CSLL Yankees game. She insisted on calling the team from the hospital to let them know she might not make it. But just like the Yankees never lost a game this season, Stacy never missed a game. She made it out of her illness and arrived at the field.

"For five years I’ve always seen her van and I know she’s watching every game,” said Jamie Brusick, one of the Yankees' coaches. “She's CSLL's most loyal fan. It's not baseball without seeing her here.”

Another Yankees' coach, Mark Cubbage, said that Stacy's teammates are also always concerned about her.

"She is very positive, and they’re all really comfortable around her. When she's sick, they notice when she’s not here and they ask for her," Cubbage said. "Rain or shine, she's down here. She's our friend."

Stacy is everyone's friend. Parents, children, the umpires and the CSLL officials all know her. Even if the Yankees are not playing, Stacy is at the other games at the park, cheering on all the teams.

"She's a great cheerleader, always here supporting the teams. We just know her because she's here all the time, even if her team isn't playing," said Bronder.

Atwell said that Stacy never loses sight of the game.

"She doesn't care about competition. She realizes that it's a form of children's recreation. There's a simplicity about that I wish I could give to some of our adults," Atwell said. "She makes a difference because she enjoys being here. Stacy's so special because she cares about what the kids are doing. It's the recognition of the fact that the kids have fun."

BRUSICK SAID that Stacy makes a difference to the kids as well. "The kids look for Stacy. They say, 'Stacy's here, now we can play.' We're not comfortable if she's not here."

Stacy even goes out with the team to do the Pledge of Allegiance. She was with the team last Saturday when the N.Y. Yankees won the CSLL championships. The whole team received trophies, including Stacy.

"We get first-place trophies, but she’s getting the biggest one," Brusick said.

Team parent Kerry O'Berry has known Stacy for several years. O'Berry said Stacy hears his voice and always reaches her hand out to hold his hand.

"Stacy has always been an inspiration here at the ballpark. She's a beautiful person," O'Berry said. "She loves everyone."