The following article first appeared in Greater Lansing Sport Magazine in June 2012 following the May 14, 2012 dedication of the CASE Cares Miracle Field.
Publisher: Camron Gnass Editor: Jack Ebling: Writing: David Harns Photography: David Harns
The line of kids stretches from home plate to the outfield, along both foul lines. Standing at attention, singing the national anthem, the teams are ready to take the field. Dozens of kids in purple and dozens of kids in white are chomping at the bit, ready to throw the first pitch, get the first hit, score the first run in this, their new baseball diamond.
But this isn’t just any baseball diamond.
And these aren’t just any kids.
Zoe Bosanic was born nearly five years ago in China, with no arms. Yet here she stands, warming up near the first base dugout. She puts the bat between her shoulder and her head and takes a couple practice swings. Then she is handed a baseball and “throws” it by drop-kicking it with precision.
Zoe is among the youngest waiting to take the field.
One of the oldest kids on the field, Travis Parmalee, is being pushed around in a wheelchair near the right field foul pole, patiently waiting for the speeches and the ribbon-cutting ceremony to finish up so that he can realize a dream he has had since he was born with cerebral palsy 17 years ago – to be part of a team, in an organized league. Travis has watched his siblings play team sports his whole life but, due to his confinement to a wheelchair, he was unable to follow in their footsteps.
The bright sun is casting atypical baseball shadows onto the smooth diamond – shadows of wheelchairs and walkers, of pediatric canes and leg braces. Hundreds of community members and volunteers, as well as nearly forty players from Michigan State University’s baseball team, have joined honorary chair and MSU coach, Jake Boss Jr., for the grand opening celebration of this first-of-its-kind field in mid-Michigan.
“The passion that those who are involved in this project have for these kids is something that is contagious,” Boss said. “To use our game to be able to affect kids’ lives is a thrill.”
Children with disabilities have been allowed to play in the Lansing Parks and Recreation League but the main concern was always the playing surface presenting potential safety hazards for players in wheelchairs or walkers.
This new baseball diamond is going to fix that.
“(Our wheelchairs) would get stuck in the sand in a normal field,” says 15-year old Katie Frayer. “It’s pretty exciting to go out there and roll across the smooth surface and just be able to focus on having fun with my friends.”
In the fall of 2007, as the Miracle League was making its unheralded national beginning in Georgia, the CASE Credit Union Board of Directors established CASE Cares, a separate non-profit organization. Five years later, this local “field of dreams” has become a reality as the CASE Cares Miracle Field in Dewitt Township joins 250 other Miracle Fields in 46 states, Canada, Puerto Rico and Australia.
The dozens of kids that have signed up for the inaugural season are joining the 200,000 children and young adults already participating in this special brand of baseball around the world.
The entire ballpark is barrier-free – including bathrooms and a concession stand – and features a specially-designed rubber field playing surface which allows the special needs children of mid-Michigan to play t-ball in a safe and fun environment, without having to worry about getting stuck or tripping on the bases.
CASE Cares Miracle Field was a cooperative effort of the CASE Cares Board of Directors and the Dewitt Charter Township Board, which donated the land for the field in its Valley Farms Park.
“Dewitt Township was very excited to be a partner,” says Dewitt Township Manager Rod Taylor. “(We) saw a benefit to our community (and) the Greater Lansing region, and stepped up to provide space at one of our parks.”
When the generous donations from the Greater Lansing community were combined with a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, the dream started to become a reality with an August, 2011 groundbreaking. Laux Construction of Dansville wanted to give back to the community and did so by keeping the project under the $677,000 budget. Even when some of the prices came in higher than anticipated, Laux did what they could to keep the project moving forward.
“(This project) was a special one. When it came out to bid, we pursued it very heavily,” says Brandon Garred, Laux Construction’s project manager for the Miracle Field. “You don’t see these things every day.”
The grand opening ceremony and the first exhibition game occurred on May 14, 2012 with the inaugural season scheduled to go eight games during June and July. For the regular season, players are divided into 2 age groups – ages 5 to 11 and ages 12 to 20 – and each receive a uniform, hat and award for their $40 registration fee.
The concept of the Miracle League of Mid-Michigan is simple in its execution, but its effects on the minds and hearts of the players, coaches and fans are quite powerful.
Every player bats once each inning and all players are safe on the bases every time.
Every player scores a run before the inning is over, with the last batter always getting a home run.
Each team and each player “wins” every game.
Depending on the severity of the disability, not every player can complete every portion of the game without help. That’s where the buddy system comes in. Community volunteers over the age of 12 serve as ‘buddies’ to assist the players when needed – to help them hit the ball, run around the bases or field the ball as necessary.
Tonight, the Michigan State baseball players are the buddies.
And they are getting just as much out of the game as the kids they are helping.
“Everyone deserves a chance to play,” MSU right fielder Jimmy Pickens said. “(My buddy) couldn’t stop smiling. I couldn’t stop smiling.”
On its very first night, it is evident that the Miracle League of Mid-Michigan is about more than just baseball. It’s about parents watching their athletes’ dreams come true. It’s about the buddies, volunteers and community sponsors working towards a common goal of inspiring, encouraging and supporting the athletes, and each other.
Tonight, while the kids are the unquestioned stars of the show, it is the coaches and the parents and the fans and the buddies who realize the overwhelming magnitude of what is happening here.
A grandmother stands with pride, watching her grand-daughter – who survived surgery for a brain tumor as an infant – pose with her new pink ball glove, smiling ear to ear. Tears stream down the face of a mom who never thought her daughter would stand at first base, crutches and all. A dad in the stands chokes back the lump in his throat as his son crosses home plate in his wheelchair, arms stretched to the sky in celebration.
On this night in Dewitt, Michigan, a community’s dream for a ballpark for disabled children became a reality. A miracle, some would say.