Southlake breaks ground on a special place for some special kids

Amber McDonald was all smiles as the shovels raised dirt to make way for a new baseball field for special needs kids in Southlake.

In 2007, at age 13, McDonald, now 19, began playing baseball with Miracle League DFW, an organization that makes it possible for every kid to play.

On Wednesday, Southlake city leaders, representatives from Miracle League Southlake, members of the Texas Rangers baseball team and some special needs athletes broke ground at Bicentennial Park for the park’s next phase of improvements.

In a little over a year, construction is expected to be complete on the Texas Rangers Miracle League Field in Southlake, giving kids with physical or mental challenges a place to play baseball.

McDonald was at a bit of a loss for words with all the fanfare surrounding the groundbreaking, but she was willing to talk baseball.

“It’s my first favorite sport,” the second-base player said.

Her mother, Carie McDonald of Coppell helped her finish her statement. “’Cause I get to play.”

Miracle League baseball has been more than just an opportunity to watch her daughter play sports, said Carie McDonald.

Amber was non-verbal before she took the field with Miracle League, her mom said. After playing and meeting some of the Texas Rangers, including Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Amber started to become more verbal.

“We saw her development,” her mother said. “She just has such a passion to do something she loves. It’s priceless.”

The goal for Phillip Meyer, Miracle League Southlake’s president, is that other children will begin having similar experiences by fall 2014 when he hopes the season can begin.

“What a treat it is to allow these kids to play a terrific sport,” Meyer said. “I thought it would be a game changer having this league in the city of Southlake where there’s such a passion for baseball.”

The Southlake organization has been raising money to pay back the city’s construction cost for the field, which Meyer expects to be close to $500,000. So far, the organization has raised $220,000 in donations, with the city matching each donation.

An anonymous donor “got the ball rolling” last summer with a check for $50,000 to be used for the park, Meyer said.

Miracle League fields are made especially for kids who need soft surfaces.

The artificial turf supports wheelchairs and walkers.

The Texas Rangers Miracle League Field in Southlake is the second of its kind in the Metroplex. The other is in Arlington’s Randol Mill Park. It originally had the Rangers name, but was changed to honor Doug Inman, the man who franchised Miracle League DFW.

The Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation donated $100,000 for 10-year naming rights to the Southlake field, and has worked with The Miracle League DFW since 2005.

Jim Sundberg, Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation president, said The Miracle League hits home with one of the foundation’s pillars of promoting youth baseball.

“If you’ve ever been to a Miracle League game, it doesn’t take long for it to capture your heart,” Sundberg said. “To be on the field, to smell the grass is American.”

Major league team members Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler were on hand Wednesday to help with the groundbreaking.

“To be here and be a part of something like this is pretty cool for us,” Kinsler, the team’s second-baseman said.

Slocum said he and other parks board members have dreamed of having a Miracle League park in the area.

“We believe every Southlake child should have the ability to play a sport,” he said. “There were 762 special needs children in [Carroll ISD] that had no sport,” said Slocum. He said he expects construction to begin in two weeks, and hopes it will be completed in 14 to 16 months. The next step is finding players and volunteers for the inaugural season next fall.

Volunteer “buddies” will be needed for every child who plays. The buddy stays with the player on the field to help them and cheer them on.

Meyer, who got his start with the organization as a buddy in 2009, said it’s a rewarding experience.

“A buddy is really the arms, eyes, legs for a child. You get joy when you see their joy,” he said. “It stays with you for a while. It stays with you for weeks and months. You don’t forget their faces. It’s a true pleasure.”