ARLINGTON -- Erin "The Cat" McKee, 17, steps into the batter's box with an intimidating yet playful look on her face.
Sporting a black Astros jersey and pink batting helmet, she pounds home plate twice with the tip of her aluminum bat -- a tradition that has caught on with other players, so much so that the plate is now scuffed. She slams the first pitch hard to center field.
Back in the dugout, McKee, an 11th-grader at Martin High School, is asked what she is most looking forward to this season in the Miracle League, a baseball league for kids with all kinds of special needs that began its spring season Friday night.
"The first time I hit it out of the park," she said.
The Miracle League, founded in 2006, is a place where optimism rules. The more than 300 youths who play on the rubberized field at Randol Mill Park in Arlington don't flinch when a bad break comes their way.
That's why the games go on, even after a November arson fire gutted the concession stand, restrooms and equipment room.
In the second game of the season, 1 p.m. today, Mayor Robert Cluck will throw the ceremonial first pitch to Texas Rangers legend Jim Sundberg.
The league has raised about $30,000 for repairs and hopes to put together $200,000 to build an equipment room with air conditioning so players will have a place to take a break on hot days. Meanwhile, the group is getting by with handicap-accessible portable toilets.
On a brighter note, the teams will play night games this season for the first time: Field lights were installed using about $26,000 in donations.
Miracle League baseball is very much like the traditional game, with a few exceptions. For example, all players bat every inning. Also, everyone runs the bases, and everyone scores. Some players take the field on their own, while others go with a buddy. This season, each player was given a brand-new athletic bag, bat and fielding glove donated by Easton-Bell Sports of Irving, where employees read news accounts of the fire and decided to help.
Today, the North Texas Baseball Club of Keller will provide hot dogs and hamburgers.
Another Astros player, Kyle "El Duque" Dodd, 17, said what he likes most is "I get to see all my friends."
The Astros and the Royals played Friday night to a 30-30 tie.
Pam Windish is one of the Astros coaches. Her son, Michael "Wild Thing" Windish, 15, played baseball the Saturday before he died of leukemia in 2007. Baseball was his passion.
"My son knew he wasn't going to make it," she said. "He wanted me to do this for his friends."
The names of Michael Windish and other players who have died are etched in four boulders just behind the first-base bleachers.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796