With baseball season around the corner, many Greenvillians may be thinking of a trip to watch the Drive play at Flour Field. But the Miracle League wants you to know there’s more to the local baseball scene than just that.
The Miracle League — an organization committed to giving children with disabilities a chance to play ball — opened its first field in 2000 in Conyers, Georgia, and has grown to 325 fields across the United States and Puerto Rico and into three other countries including Canada, Australia and Mexico. The organization has 17 fields in South Carolina, with two in Greenville County, said Miracle League Corporate president Diane Alford.
The first Greenville County Miracle League field opened in 2005 at 203 Corn Road in Mauldin after former Mauldin Mayor Dennis Raines learned about the league at a meeting.
“Back in 2004, I was in a meeting of a start-up company in Greenville and they had Diane Alford in there,” Raines said. “She did a video presentation at the time of the field they opened in Conyers. We [Mauldin] had the only field, I believe, for wheelchair-bound adult softball in the state and it was an asphalt surface.”
According to Raines, he told Alford the city could get a field going quickly and took her to the location. At the time, they had everything ready except the safety surface, which is constructed of recycled tires.
The first season started with 26 children and has grown to offer two divisions for players 3 years old and up. The All Stars Division allows players to hit from a tee or a pitched ball and play with a buddy, while the All-Americans Division, for ages 8 and up, plays unassisted.
Mauldin teams play from March to May and again from September to October. Its Miracle League typically works with buddies from the community, including Mauldin and Hillcrest high schools and Brookwood Church, said Miracle League volunteer and board member Sandy Somerville.
“This year’s kind of different because of COVID-19,” Somerville said. “Parents are volunteering instead of school groups to help the kids bat and run around the bases.”
In addition, the Mauldin team’s oldest player is 39 and this league does not have an age cutoff, said Somerville.
Joining Mauldin in the Miracle League family is Fountain Inn. The city decided to add the field as part of its multimillion dollar facility called the Emmanuel Sullivan Sports Complex, formerly known as Woodside Park.
“The planning started in May 2016, that started off quite simple [with] three ballfields, a small playground, more parking, an ADA-compliant bathroom facility and a multi-purpose field,” said Fountain Inn Parks and Recreation director Russell Haltiwanger. “As meetings became more frequent, the reality set in that this was really going to happen – it had been needed for quite a long time. One idea that was presented was adding a Miracle League field. The original plan called for a combination of dirt/grass T-Ball field. Adding a Miracle League field would then restructure the project to focus on ‘inclusive play.’”
With a focus on “inclusive play,” defined as going beyond minimum accessibility to create play experiences that meet a variety of needs and interests, Fountain Inn added Miracle League to the complex and plans to launch its teams with tentative open houses on June 24 and July 8.
“Our plan is to have two ‘open houses’ during the summer for participants to come out and ask questions, engage with other players and Fountain Inn Recreation staff, to get a feel for the field and become comfortable with their surroundings,” Haltiwanger said. “During these dates we will take registrations and start to establish what exactly our league will look like. The plan is to start practices in mid-August and then league play beginning in September.”
Similar to Mauldin, Fountain Inn will be working with volunteers from the community for the buddy system to be paired with players in its Miracle League. In addition, the city plans to open registration to children 4 years old and up.