Cal Ripken, Jr. once said you could be a kid for as long as you want - when you play baseball.
But for kids with disabilities, that just hasn't been the reality locally. Well, not anymore.
It’s those sentiments from Ripken that work in tandem with the idea of the Miracle League. On Friday, beginning at 11:30 a.m., ground will be broken at the 2300 block of Tin Top Road on Miracle League of Parker County.
Through the generosity of Amy and George Mercer, the couple has agreed to underwrite the majority of the fields construction with a $500,000 contribution.
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George, who has a son with special needs, said he was caught off guard when his son “aged out” of his baseball program.
“When my son Vincent aged out of Challenger League, we were surprised,” Mercer said. “How do you tell someone who, while being physically 21, is still a kid that he can’t play baseball? That’s how all this got started.”
He said they felt Miracle League was the best product to meet the needs of kids with special needs and the challenges they live with.
“We believe the least deserve the best and the only way to achieve that goal is to do it privately and with the help of the community,” George said. “I couldn’t have done this without the support of the Weatherford City Council and Planning/Zoning board. Their vote to bring the sewer lines to the field was unanimous, which shows their commitment to our community.”
The Miracle League’s mantra is that every child deserves a chance to play baseball. Come this spring those living in Parker County with disabilities will be able to do that. George urges folks to come to the games when the field is completed.
“Come to one of these games,” he said. “You’ll cry, you’ll laugh and you’ll see why these kids are so special. For an hour, they forget their challenges and just play ball.”
He said their investment is not just for these kids, but for the community as well.
“We will need the support of the community to continue to operate and grow,” George added. “Help us show the rest of the state why Parker County is the best place in Texas to raise you children regardless their challenges. Miracles do happen in Parker County.”
According to the 2000 Census Bureau, there are 19.7 million children in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada who have disabilities between the ages of 5 and 19 and with young adults, that number increases substantially.
“The Miracle League removes the barriers that keep children with mental and physical disabilities off the baseball field and lets them experience the joy of America's favorite pastime,” said Miracle League’s Stephanie Davis.
She said since the main barriers for these children arise from the natural grass fields used in conventional youth leagues, Miracle League teams play on a custom-designed, rubberized turf field that accommodates wheelchairs and other assertive device while helping to prevent injuries. Also:
• Every Player gets to bat once each inning.
• Every Player has a “Buddy” who is there to assist them and to cheer them on.
• Every Player is safe on bases.
• Every Player rounds the bases and gets to score a run each inning.
• The last Player on the line-up gets a home run.
The mission of the Miracle League is to provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to play Miracle League baseball, regardless of their abilities.
The first Miracle League field opened in Conyers, Ga., in April 2000. It wasn't long before word got out and by 2002, fields opened as the concept gained in popularity.
But according to league officials it's more than playing a game. The Miracle League is about making new friends, building self-esteem and being treated “just like other kids.” The Miracle League serves children who suffer from any physical or mental disabilities which causes them to be excluded - intentionally or not - from conventional youth baseball leagues.
More is needed though. Mercer asked to please join those in helping build the Miracle League of Parker County by going to www.miracleleagueparkercounty.com and click on the donate button. Funds will go directly to Miracle League of Parker County.