In 1999, Dean Alford of Conyers, Georgia, was dreaming of building a special baseball field in his hometown so children with physical or mental disabilities could play baseball. What emerged from his dream was the Miracle League, which currently has about 175 branches in forty-four states and serves more than 25,000 children.
“And eventually we’re going to have 500 fields (nationwide),’ said Diane Alford, Dean’s sister and executive director of the Miracle League, in a 2005 interview with this columnist. ‘Communities hearing of Miracle League are wondering why they haven’t thought of this before. This country has 5.2 million children with disabilities. Somewhere in our lives is a child with a disability, whether a neighbor, sibling or cousin.’
Children with disabilities often can’t play baseball on regular fields. Kids with mobility issues, including those using walkers, crutches or wheelchairs, and blind and autistic kids and others, usually can’t move safely over elevated bases, infield dirt, and grass. Alford’s idea was to build a special rubberized ball field.
My daughter Abigail had her Miracle League debut last Saturday. No one kept score. Her first hit was a grounder toward third base. The Miracle League near us in southern Minnesota started even before receiving its rubberized field. We should be getting ours within the next three months. I’m excited, and so is my daughter, who uses a wheelchair.
Until the new rubberized field arrives, her team will continue practicing on a dirt field. After hitting the ball there, Abigail usually has difficulty negotiating the base paths and crossing home plate.
It felt strange interviewing my daughter, but who better to ask? ‘I like Miracle League because it’s fun and I can meet new friends,’ said 11-year-old Abigail Vance. ‘I also liked that at the first practice I wasn’t a total stranger because I knew someone there.’
Also, after only two practices and one game she lost her fear of being hit by a baseball. And she enjoys ‘trading jokes with the person helping at shortstop.’
Miracle League has special rules: 1) base runners are always safe; 2) every player scores a run before the inning ends; 3) community volunteers serve as “buddies” to assist players; 4) and both teams win.
The Minnesota Twins baseball team financially supports our particular league. If your hometown doesn’t have Miracle League, you don’t know what you’re missing.