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It’s opening night of the spring baseball season at the Betty and Bobby Allison Miracle League Ball Field in east Springfield. If you're not familiar with the Miracle League, it's where the miracles of being a sports star comes true for many people with physical or developmental disabilities. KSMU’s Rebekah Clark reports.
The Springfield-Greene County Park Board hit a home-run with the first few seasons of the Miracle League. Cyrus Taylor, the Park Board’s community recreations specialist and the organizer of the league, says some players have been counting down the days until spring season officially starts. He says his email inbox has been full the last couple of months with parents and friends saying their players are ready to get back out on the field.
“I have parents that send emails and say, ‘When do we start? I’m tired of hearing [my child] ask about it. We want to get them back out on the field.’ There’s quite a few people that really, really look forward to it. They’ve been amped up about it all winter and they’re ready to go.”
Well, their wait is officially over. At 6 p.m. tonight, weather permitting, the youth league of players 12 and under are scheduled to play their first spring game. The first adult league games are on Thursday night.
At each game, every player is paired with a “buddy” who may assist in swinging the bat, running the bases or catching. Taylor says players like to do as much as they can on their own, so most of the time, the buddy acts as a personal cheerleader. Buddies are also used to ensure maximum safety for players and spectators.
The league has two baseball seasons a year, one in the spring and one in the fall. Taylor says this is the second year for games.
“In the fall, we’re blessed enough to have some of the local softball or baseball teams from the local collages that come out and help us out. They’ve been tremendously helpful. What happens in the spring is typically those baseball and softball teams are actually playing baseball and softball themselves, so their schedules are not nearly as free as they are in the fall. We’ve established a little bit of a void not having those players that we’re trying to get filled back up.”
Those volunteer teams include the Springfield Cardinals, who, according to Taylor, have done extensive volunteer work.
Already, the adult and youth leagues have around 95 people signed up to play, Taylor says. They need at least 95 volunteers to sign up so that every player gets their fair share of playing time.
Shari Haden got involved in the buddy system as a student in college. She says at the time she was looking to get involved in volunteer opportunities around the community. She decided to check out a Miracle League game and ended up on the field as a buddy during her very first visit to a game.
“I mean, the second I walked onto the field, he [Taylor] and the rest of the staff and the kids were all like, ‘Just come on and do it with us.’ I ended up on the field as a buddy that first night there and fell in love and they have to tear me away at the end of the night now when it’s over.”
And she kept going back. Eventually, she started helping manage the event, and now she works for the Park Board as a recreation leader.
“Their [the players] just honest and genuine love for life is so contagious and absolutely beautiful. We’re there for them, one-hundred and ten percent. The game is about them and getting them involved and them having that American legend experience of the game we all love. As much as you’re there for them, there’s not a night that you don’t go home just completely fulfilled by what you’re doing.”
The field is one third the size of a regular baseball field and features a barrier-free, cushioned synthetic surface to help people with wheelchairs or walkers to get around easily. In each game, every player gets to bat once an inning. There are a few more rules: all players are safe to each base, every player gets to score a run before the inning is over, and every team and every player win every game.
The games end with all players lining up on the field to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
For the players’ sake, and for her own, Haden says she’s praying the rain holds off so the youth league can commence on schedule. It’s time to play ball, she says.
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.