Editorial by Jason Wert
I can still remember the smile like it’s happening now and not a memory from years ago.
My son Eli, standing on first base, arms raised in their air in the joy of victory after getting his first hit playing “Buddy Ball.” His “buddy” standing beside him with a smile on her face and the crowd cheering him on.
I’m certainly not tearing up as I’m typing this like I did watching him bounce up and down on the first base bag. A moment, that quite honestly, I never thought I would get to experience with my autistic son.
Eli was part of Miracle League baseball, a league for those with disabilities to have a chance to play the great American game. My son is autistic and as a result doesn’t have the best coordination and fine motor skills. Playing in a regular baseball league would be impossible for him.
But as I wrote in an editorial on baseball’s opening day, my son loves baseball. He loves to listen to it on the radio as we’re driving around the Ozarks. No matter how much his dad insists that his car radio can only magically pick up WIP-FM from Philadelphia (the Phillies flagship station), Eli will just turn the radio to the Cardinals broadcast, smile and look at me and say “here da Cardinals.”
So when Eli had the chance to play what we call “Buddy Ball”, we jumped at the chance.
The reason Eli was able to live his dream of playing ball? The generous nature of hundreds of people where he lives joining together to be the “buddies” out on the field.
Springfield is in need of those buddies right now.
The Miracle League for Springfield is ready to go on April 15th but with over 200 players signed up for the league, they are in need of men and women who can volunteer their time to help the players experience the thrill of swinging the bat, smashing the ball into the field and making their way around the basepaths.
You can volunteer as little as one hour a week to help make a person with special needs’ dream of playing baseball like their friends come true.
“Groups of buddies come from all walks of life: school clubs, sports teams, a business or office — anyone 12 and up,” Miracle League Commissioner Cyrus Taylor said in a press release sent to OI. “They don’t need to be into baseball. Once they get out on the field they realize how much fun it is, and it really opens their eyes to how valuable the program is.”
The youth league plays Mondays at 5:30, 6:30 and 7:30. Adult teams play Wednesdays & Thursdays at 6 and 7 p.m. The league’s biggest need is for buddies to assist with the adult games, but they are always looking for qualified buddies for any level.
It’s not hard to be a buddy. You have to be 12-years-old or older, enthusiastic, friendly and able to assist players on the field and in the dugout. Most of all, you need to be ready to have a good time and help others have a good time.
“You may think it’s not a big deal to spend couple of hours playing a little baseball, but it’s a very big deal for our players,” said Taylor. “Playing in the Miracle League improves their confidence, it helps their social interactions and builds good sportsmanship. It’s a real win for everyone. Buddies can expect to have a heckuva good time and make a serious impact on someone’s life.”
And let me say from the father of a child who has benefitted from being able to play baseball like this, it’s a tremendous blessing. The chance to sit in the stands and watch your child playing ball when you never thought it would be possible feels like a true miracle.
The league plays at the Betty and Bobby Allison Miracle League Ball Field at Dan Kinney Park on Blackman Road in Springfield. The field is designed to be fully accessible just like the adjacent Dan Kinney Park playground.
I know there are many great organizations in the Ozarks where you can help make a difference and they’re all battling for your time. I’m not here to ask you to stop supporting a group where you’re already giving…but if you’re thinking about giving back to the community and need a place to begin, please consider being a buddy for the Miracle League.
I can say without any doubt, the parents and players in these leagues will be very grateful you’re coming out to help.
If you would like to be a buddy, visit parkboard.org/Miracle or contact Miracle League Commissioner Cyrus Taylor at 417-837-5808.
And if you choose to help, from me personally, thank you.