Teens team up with Miracle League to help special-needs kids play ball

Whether they are athletes, coaches or buddies, joy is the common emotion of Miracle League participants who stood for the national anthem and then watched as players ran the bases during this recent Saturday morning game. (Joyce Coronel/Catholic Sun)
Whether they are athletes, coaches or buddies, joy is the common emotion of Miracle League participants who stood for the national anthem and then watched as players ran the bases during this recent Saturday morning game. (Joyce Coronel/Catholic Sun)

[dropcap type=”4″]A[/dropcap]dam Turner, 8, stepped up to the plate with his “buddy” by his side for his turn at bat. After he made contact with the ball, Turner almost forgot to run as he smiled ear to ear.

Outfielders in wheelchairs raced to get him out while the crowd cheered Turner to third base. Once he crossed home plate on the Dan Haren Miracle League Field, a baseball stadium in northeast Scottsdale, he was the star in a field of dreams.

The field was named after the former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher, whose father still attends and does play-by-play.

And that’s what The Miracle League of Arizona is all about — giving children and adults with special needs the ability to fulfill a dream of playing baseball.

Turner, the youngest of three and the child of Jason and Louise, has Down syndrome. This is the third year Adam has played on the three-season league that registers players as young as four and has no age limit.

“It’s so inspirational to watch these children play,” Louise said. “It gives him self-confidence and he’s really proud of what he can do here.”

Jason said they heard about the nonprofit from school, and they appreciate how the program is specifically geared to the success of the athletes who might not otherwise have a positive experience.

“Players have able-bodied buddies that help them on the field and as parents we don’t have to be so involved,” he said. “We can cheer from the stands.”

Founded in 1999 in Atlanta, Miracle League organizations are located around the world and serve more than 200,000 children and adults with disabilities.

The Miracle League of Arizona had its first game three years ago. Currently, they serve 150 athletes and have more than 200 volunteers.

It’s athletes like Adam who keep Connor White coming back to help each year.

White, an eighth grade student at St. Theresa Catholic School, was introduced to the program when his Little League team volunteered two years ago.

As vice president of the teen ambassador group, White and other members are charged with raising awareness and funds for the league, but he especially enjoys being a buddy.

“I love it. There’s nothing like seeing the smile on the athlete’s face,” White said. “I’ve done other volunteer work, but this is what I do. I want to make a difference in their lives.”

The Diamondbacks organization contributed to the $1.7 million facility that features a rubberized field to accommodate walkers and wheelchairs, white painted lines for the visually impaired, a concession stand, field lights and shaded dugouts.

Paul Marsillo, an 8th grade student at Rancho Solano and member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Scottsdale, has volunteered for nearly three years.

“It’s great to help people accomplish something they don’t have the ability to do, like play baseball,” Marsillo said. “It’s fun. I have formed friendships and it makes me appreciate baseball a lot more.