CULLMAN - April 4 marked Opening Day for Major League Baseball, and for some very special local athletes, it marked Opening Day of the Miracle League at the Field of Miracles.
“It has been around since 2007 when the Field of Miracles complex was opened to the public,” said Cullman City Parks and Recreation Marketing, Programs and Event Director, Waid Harbison, when asked about the Miracle League. “The complex was the first in the country to combine a miracle field and regular use softball fields in the same park. This has allowed for a really unique atmosphere where the Miracle League participants can watch and cheer on our youth baseball and softball leagues and they can also go watch the Miracle League guys as well.”
The action got started with the Braves playing the Angels and was followed by the Dodgers taking on the Diamondbacks. Each game ended in a tie, as each game does, but the Miracle League is not about winning, but the athletes themselves.
“The program is a huge benefit to what we offer by allowing individuals of all needs to play softball,” said Harbison about the program. “Participants range in age from 7- or 8-years-old to 60-70-years-old. Being able to offer this program for a special needs population that does not have many activities to participate in like normal kids or families is huge.”
The players’ names are announced and play-by-play is called by the voice of the Cullman Bearcats, Jimmy Dale. Each player recognizes his distinctive voice, smiles and points at the broadcaster. Dale calls out the name of each player who steps in the box, to the thrill of the player. He then describes the player’s hit and calls their trio around the bases, culminating in a loud “Home Run!” and a “Way to Go!” followed by the player’s name.
The games are played with the typical metal bats indicative of amateur baseball/softball, but the game is played on a rubber playing surface laid out like a baseball diamond. Each player gets to hit each inning, ending with a home run whether it is a traditional over the fence home run or the elusive inside the park home run.
“The league is played on Tuesday and Thursday nights with a spring and fall league,” Harbison said. “All ages are encouraged to play and participants range from autistic, physical handicaps, Down Syndrome, and any other special needs. Volunteer Buddies come in and help these guys out; we have lots of volunteers from schools and even college sports teams who have come to help with them before.”
The athletes who participate in the Miracle League are some of the best athletes you will ever watch on a baseball diamond. Not because they have the best skills, but because they play the game they love with the heart and enthusiasm missing in so many sports today. Do yourself a favor and come out to watch these phenomenal athletes do phenomenal things.