Miracle Weekends

Al Bello

This isn't Phillies related, but it's baseball and this time of year is when various leagues are in dire need of coaches, umpires and a variety of other volunteers. So I'm sharing a story about what got me volunteering with a league for kids with disabilities.

On July 14th back in 2008 the Double A Southern League All-Star game was being held in Zebulon, NC. Zebulon is basically my neighborhood and I go to at least a dozen games a year, so the idea of going to the All Star game sounded like a perfectly fun afternoon. I was going to get to see such great names as Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Chris Coghlan, Gaby Sanchez, Cameron Maybin, Alcides Escobar, Wade Davis, James McDonald, John Jaso and a helluva lot of guys who never panned out (though I realize even above none of those guys really became stars).

Some leagues have Home Run Derbys, some have Fan Fests, this game had festivities beforehand including something called The Miracle League game. I knew nothing about the Miracle League and assumed it was some kind of local Babe Ruth league or something. As the festivities started they brought out all of the mascots from the league, then they announced the Miracle League players. At this point I realized what it was. Miracle League is a chance for children with physical disabilities of one form or another to play baseball.

I found the idea nice, and certainly worth watching and cheering for these kids, so maybe for a few minutes they could feel like Albert Pujols going from base to base. Yeah, there was something odd about watching a game with a giant Jimmy Dean like Sun mascot manning second, while a giant fish played Right Field, but that just added a little extra entertainment value really.

I cheered heartily as kids in motorized and manual wheelchairs rounded the bases; and children with Down Syndrome hit the ball and then ran, quite randomly, around the field. I enjoyed it and it was very nice and I felt good for all of these kids. Then the kid in the walker came to the plate. He was unstable in his gait and somewhat thin, but seemed to be a very happy little boy. They set the ball up on a tee for him and, honestly, he took a nice swing at it and sent it rolling to the sun (who was worse fielding than Michael Young thanks to an arms to costume circumference ratio clearly drawn up by Escher). That boy grabbed his walker and once the tee was moved aside he set off for first. His face was stone cold serious now as he rounded and headed for second. As he eclipsed the sun and headed towards third he seemed to get slightly off balance.

Then it happened, as he got to third he lost it and went down. Clearly unable to get up sans walker he crawled around third base. As he started heading home a volunteer came to help him get up and back to his walker. He waved them off, wanting no part of it. He looked determined and clearly he was going to crawl to home on his own power. And he did, the whole stadium was cheering him on (and crying like babies) and he came down at Home Plate with an emphatic, we'll call it a slide. He had a huge smile on his face, All-Stars were out there cheering him. It was a thoroughly magnificent end-of-Rudy type triumphant moment. I was a mid-30's man bawling my eyes out, unable to talk. I had never met this kid, but I was so immensely proud of him. Heck, I'm getting choked up typing this.

This month I start an 8 week volunteer gig as an announcer for the local Miracle League. It's 2 hours every Saturday, and the players come from as far as several hours away in the state. I don't tell you this to toot my own horn or to show how great a guy I am. Frankly, I'm a curmudgeon, but I'm not heartless. There are Miracle Leagues in various cities and states. Volunteer for one, or donate, go to a game. If there isn't a Miracle League near you, that's fine. This isn't just about the Miracle League, there are plenty of little leagues across the US that need all kinds of volunteers. Give a little time and maybe you'll be lucky enough to witness someone's triumphant moment

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