PLAINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A local baseball league that helps kids with disabilities strap on the cleats and play ball is gearing up for its fall season.
On Saturdays in the spring and fall, Nate Hurwitz Field at the Art Van Sports Complex near Rockford comes alive with players with the West Michigan Miracle League.
“I know Disney says it’s the happiest place on Earth. I beg to differ on game days because this place is really, really incredible. It’s growing and it’s sustained because of the energy that the kids bring on game day,” said Tom Comden, the president of the Miracle League.
As part of the sports complex, the nonprofit has the backing of the West Michigan Sports Commission.
“When we got to breaking ground and then the first game, yeah, (there were) smiles all around. The complex wasn’t even complete yet. This field opened first. We could barely accommodate all the parking of the people that came out to see the first game,” said Mike Guswiler, the president of the West Michigan Sports Commission.
The Miracle League enters its fourth year of competition this fall. In that time, participation has tripled.
“The whole idea is to put it in an able-bodied environment so these kids can shed their disabilities for the day and really be part of what’s going on around them,” Guswiler said.
The enthusiasm extends well beyond the athletes. The league depends entirely on volunteer efforts.
“I already have volunteers signed up for the fall of 2017,” Comden said. “When your biggest problem is you have too many volunteers, as a nonprofit, that’s a really good problem to have.”
“So each week there’s volunteers that buddy the kids and we want to make sure that they are on the field with those kids depending on their abilities and making sure that they’re protecting them as well as helping them participate,” explained Mike Best, a Miracle League parent and coach.
Best’s son, Johnny, is among the more than 90 kids that participate.
“We ask Johnny if he hit a home run. He says, ‘Yeah, I hit a home run.’ And I say, ‘Who did you hit a home run for?’ And he says, ‘I hit it for Mom.’ So that’s great and it never gets old every single week,” Best said. “For myself, personally, just to be able to participate with my son in something like this is sort of a dream come true. So it’s really terrific.”
“After one of the first games in our inaugural season where one of the kids went home and wouldn’t take of their jersey or held their hat close and just fell asleep with a smile — that’s the kind of thing, that’s the impact that we want to have,” Guswiler said.
“I think we all look for those opportunities in life, and the most rewarding opportunities are those where you’re a part of something bigger than yourself and you have an opportunity to do something for somebody who can’t say thank you back,” Comden said.
The Miracle League is hosting a special game for veterans Saturday. The fall season starts Sept. 10.—–Online: West Michigan Miracle League