Michael “Mikey” Coyne is the 12-year-old Rancho Cordova baseball player behind “Strikouts for Autism,” a program dedicated to his younger brother Brendan. Since 2008, “Strikeouts” has raised over $4,000 for Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism research and advocacy organization. Sponsors make pledges based on how many strikeouts little league pitchers across Northern California can make during a season. Michael has recently been awarded a $1,000 Kohl’s Cares Scholarship.
How did you come up with the idea?
Mickey: It all started four years ago. At my brother’s school they teach kids with autism, and I saw kids who were older than me with autism, and I told my mom maybe I should do something about it. Mostly I got the idea from Barry Zito, he’s a San Francisco Giants pitcher, and he does Stikeouts for Troops, and but I switched it up a bit and that’s how I got Strikeouts for Autism.
Faith Coyne (Mother): He was frustrated because he always wanted to help his brother out, but didn’t really know what he could do. When we first moved here Brendan started going to an ABC [Applied Behavior Consultants, Inc] school, and Brendan just exploded from there. He started talking, playing with Mickey, wanting things from us; he was just a different boy. And Mickey saw that he was getting better, and that’s kind of where the story starts: I took [Mickey] there, and he saw Brendan getting better, but then we saw older kids there, like teenagers. And he got confused, and asked “I thought Brendan was going get better as he got older?” and I told him “Some kids don’t.” So when he was nine year old, and he came up with this idea, I was like “Sure we can do that.”
You were 9 when you started this, what was the biggest challenge in getting things going?
Mickey: Mostly just getting the word out, to people I knew who played baseball or just wanted to help.
Faith: At first I was making most of the phone calls and coordinating people, but eventually he started getting more kids involved, learned the website, and doing more and more of it, and I’m taking more of a side role.
How much has “Strikeouts” grown?
Mickey: It mostly started with me and a couple family members, and then we expanded it to teammates, teams. Now we’ve expanded it to “Hits for Autism”, for people who wanted to join but didn’t want to pitch.
Mike Coyne (Father): We have like 13 participants, who are creating awareness or fundraising. Were trying to pick up more steam, now that this Kohl scholarship has breathed new life into this. We have a lot of participants in the Fairfield area where we used to live, and Rancho [Cordova], Elk Grove. We like to see it expand farther, especially now that [Mickey’s] reaching high school age. A lot high schools have kids do service projects, and this might be a good match for baseball or softball players.
Where do you see the future of “Strikeouts for Autism”?
Mickey: Yep. I wanna continue it, maybe until I die. I wanna go to college, but my ultimate goal is to be a major league baseball player.
Faith: Now that’s it’s getting to be a bigger thing, we’re going to try and help him expand it a bit. We’ve been talking about having Mickey go to classrooms or small groups and talk about autism. We’re also thinking about going locally with our fundraising efforts, and maybe giving directly to the [UC Davis Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute], so people have more of a connection to where the money’s going. Because originally when we start this, Mickey wanted to help find a cure, and by supporting the MIND institute, that’s what they’re doing, they’re doing the research.
Besides fundraising, how do you help spread awareness?
Mickey: We have patches on the back of our hats and bat bags, and when people come up to ask us about it, that’s when we tell them about Strikeouts for Autism.
Faith: I would say awareness is actually more important, it’s all about letting kids with autism have a good community around them, and Sacramento definitely has that. These kids get to know Brendan, and kids he’s played with on a team, and realize nothings wrong with him, he just has autism. He has little quirks here and there, but he’s alright, and once they understand that they come to accept kids with autism in general. It’s a better circle of friends for Brendan then it was before when we used to keep it kind of quiet because we weren’t sure about it. That’s the huge thing about this, it just opens that door so people know about it. Mickey brings awareness to little pockets, to kids.
Do you feel you’ve grown with the program?
Mickey: It’s helped my relationship with my brother 100 percent. I feel like I’m a better baseball player after starting this, and a better person.
Faith: And that was great, because that wasn’t even the main goal of it. It’s weird when start something like volunteering, how you get so much more out of it than you think you will going in.