I went to a baseball game last Saturday. The Marlins were playing the Phillies.
Don’t ask me the final score. There wasn’t a scoreboard. It wouldn’t have mattered, anyway.
Attending a Miracle League game should be on all our bucket and basket lists. Teachers should make it a requirement of every student.
You don’t need a ticket. There is plenty of parking. If you get hungry or thirsty, there is a nice concession stand.
Bring plenty of tissue, though. You’re going to need it. It’s impossible to leave the ballpark without a lump in your throat the size of a baseball.
The Miracle League is more about joy and opportunity than miracles.
“There is nothing greater than seeing that child rounding the bases with a smile on his or her face,” said Dan Morton, who founded the Macon Miracle League, now in its 10th year. “That one smile is worth the 10 years of working with this league.”
Every player on the Miracle League roster is on the disabled list. These young people face physical and mental challenges every day, not just at a baseball game.
Some were born with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida and Down syndrome. Others are autistic, have learning disorders and visual and hearing impairments.
“I don’t use the word ‘special needs,’ ” Morton said. “I call it special abilities.”
The law of physics does not apply to fans at Miracle League games. It is possible to sit in the bleachers, not budge an inch and still be moved. It can break your heart and lift it at the same.
The games only last two innings. Every batter hits. Nobody makes an out. It’s all hands on deck in the field. The players all get to hear their names called on the public address system.
“Home runs” are often slow rollers back to the pitchers mound. If a player fails to touch a base while running the base paths, there are no challenges from the dugout. Nobody yells at the umpire. (Or asks for instant replay.) Players on opposing teams cheer for each other.
Morton’s son Alex will graduate from Tattnall Square Academy in a few weeks. Alex was among the Golden Eagles nominees in “athletics” on Tuesday night. He will attend Middle Georgia State College in the fall. He wants to major in communications and become an announcer.
Alex was born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spine fails to close properly. When he was a youngster, he asked his father if he could play baseball, even though he was in a wheelchair. For two years, his family drove him every weekend to Conyers, the birthplace of the Miracle League.
The Mortons tirelessly led the effort to bring a league here. It made its debut on a T-ball field at West Macon Park in 2005. Three years later, the league had a field of its own with an artificial playing surface to allow wheelchair mobility. Dedicated volunteers, charitable organizations and city officials worked together to make it happen.
The league has grown from two teams in 2005 to six teams this year. There are now 250 leagues serving more than 200,000 children in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Australia.
I had fun at the ballpark Saturday. I sat next to one of my heroes, Ben Marsh, in the press box. Ben handles the announcing and is a universal cheerleader behind the microphone.
Ben also volunteers at Heard Elementary several times a week. He was born 24 years ago this spring and has cerebral palsy. He was three months premature and weighed 1 pound, 8 ounces. His chances of survival were lower that Dan Uggla’s current batting average. When he left the hospital, the headline on a story on the front page of The Telegraph called him a “Miracle Baby.”
Four years ago this past Friday, Ben became the first player in Miracle League history to knock one over the fence, a tape-measure (150 feet) shot to left-center field. (Of course, the legend has grown, and that ball now landed on the other side of Interstate 475.)
Christian and Calen Collins might be the most competitive players in the league. Their father, Chris Collins, was a phenomenal pitcher from Macon who was drafted in the third round by the California Angels in 1985.
They are “miracles,” too. They were born with Fanconi anemia, a rare, genetic blood disorder. Christian is now 20. Calen is 15. Both are small and have four fingers (no thumbs) with their wrists turning inward.
Chris and his wife, Susan, have three other sons -- Colby, 23, Cameron, 19, and Connor, 17. He said the Miracle League has given Christian and Calen a “sense of normalcy.” Chris attends their games, offers them advice and gives them encouragement. “They don’t feel like they’re any different,” he said.
Another special aspect of the league are “buddies” who volunteer to assist the players during the games. The baseball teams at Tattnall, Mount de Sales, Stratford and Vine-Ingle Little League all have helped out this season. Medical students from Mercer University, as well as the school’s volleyball team and Pi Kappa Phi fraternity also have assisted. The Georgia College & State University baseball team is helping at Friday’s game (7 p.m.). Mercer baseball players will be “buddies” at Saturday’s 11 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. games.
The season ends May 17, followed by an awards banquet May 20 at Forest Hills United Methodist Church.
There are still plenty of miracles waiting to happen.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.