It started in 2013 with four teams playing a pair of games for a noble cause and it has grown into one of the highlights of the high school baseball season. The Baseball Gods will shine brightly tomorrow on ten locations in Ocean and Monmouth County as they are hosting games as part of this year’s Strike Out Autism Challenge.

That four-team event just four years ago will involve 42 teams tomorrow, all but one from the Shore Conference.  Those teams will battle on the field and do what they can to collect a victory but they are all winners regardless of the final score.  That’s because the coaches and players are helping increase the awareness of a neurodevelopmental disorder that was once almost hidden and is now front and center.  That’s especially important in New Jersey which has the highest autism rate in the country with one in 45 children born with autism spectrum disorder.

The baseball challenge was the brainchild of Jerry and Jo-Dee Frulio who are teachers in the Central Regional School District and the parents of an 8-year old autistic son Dayton who has made remarkable progress and will once again participate in a ceremonial first pitch Saturday.  Jerry is the former Golden Eagles and St. Rose head coach and he’s used his baseball connections to grow the event which at Central tomorrow will include a carnival at nearby Veterans Park with food, music, bounce houses, face painting, petting zoo and more.

Tomorrow’s schedule also features games at Howell, Jackson Liberty, St John Vianney, Ocean, Raritan, Point Boro, Wall, Red Bank Catholic and Toms River South where all three Toms River schools will play.  East meets Williamstown at 1pm followed by North facing CBA and then under the lights South will host Donovan Catholic.  While those games are going on the freshman class at Toms River South will host an autism awareness carnival in the front parking lot.

All money raised will go towards donations to autism charities as well as autism awareness programs at many of the schools participating in the baseball challenge.