As the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees battle in MLB’s postseason, their Miracle League counterparts in Greenwood played some fall baseball of their own Saturday, on a new field expected to sustain the nonprofit for years to come.
“This league, field, concessions would not be possible without the generous donations from the people of Greenwood,” director Brandon Strickland said. “We have a board that has worked nonstop until we reached our goal.”
Powered exclusively on the strength of corporate contributions and private donations, the league was able to generate more than $100,000, replacing a playing surface that had fallen victim to age and weather and preserving the beloved program that gives children with special needs and disabilities a chance to play baseball.
The Miracle League’s field is on The Burton Center’s Highway 72 campus, but is otherwise unaffiliated with the organization.
Among those who helped the players round the bases Saturday were members of the Lander University Bearcats women’s basketball team and a large contingent of Ascend employees, many of whom made donations from their paychecks through the company’s charitable foundation to help pay for the work.
“It means a lot to us, helping out the community. We even have employees that have family members that played in the Miracle League, so it’s nice to be able to help out and help get a new field for them,” said Ascend employee Bubba Davenport.
With temperatures in the low 70s and a light rainfall, the air was crisp for sluggers like PJ Sutton of the Dodgers, who leapt for joy in the batter’s box – “three, two, one, go!” he shouted at the pitcher, belting a line drive that cleared the bases and saw him return to the dugout, greeted by high fives and cheers.
Elizabeth Dominick, in her electric wheelchair, beamed after tapping a dribbler down the first base line that got her on board safely.
Other players were hugging one another and volunteers in the stands, and behind them a modern snack bar was being used for the first time.
Organizers named it after Charlie and Helen Watkins, who began offering their time to assist the Miracle League about 10 years ago.
“We got to talking about it and we said, ‘this is a volunteer job you and I can do out here,’” and they’ve come out every Saturday morning since then. “It’s been a joy. This has been one of God’s gifts to us.”
Miracle League board member Greg Sears said the community’s financial backing – and in-kind hours donated to help lay down the new surface – has been humbling to the group.
“It was either, ‘make a field or fold our league,’ and we had a million people stand up and donate and support our cause,” he said. “Thank you so much for sharing your kids with us. We love you.”
Although the former field, comprised of interlocking rubberized pieces, was no longer viable for baseball, the tiles were kept and plans are in the works to create a fully accessible playground.
Inspiration was in heavy supply Saturday, in the form of people such as Ella Wham and her pom-poms.
Standing just off third base, she cheered on every batter as they came to the plate, and didn’t stop until they came back around to score a run.
“They are precious,” Wham said. “I look forward to this.”