July 28, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
65°F

Miracle League makes special memories on the baseball diamond

Bianca Kennedy of the Orioles runs the bases as the Aces Jacob Danszczak looks on during their game against the Royals during the Miracle League game at Sam Masi Park in Medina. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

Bianca Kennedy of the Orioles runs the bases as the Aces Jacob Danszczak looks on during their game against the Royals during the Miracle League game at Sam Masi Park in Medina. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

MEDINA — For six nights a week, the baseball diamond at Medina’s Sam Masi Park is a busy place for the Miracle League of Northeast Ohio.

From its junior buddy league to one for adults, individuals with mental and/or physical challenges from across the region get the opportunity to play America’s pastime on the artificial turf field.

“It’s all for the love of the game of baseball,” said Ken Richardson, the league’s vice president. “They all enjoy getting together and seeing each other.”

Richardson has been involved with the group since it was officially formed in 2012, but had spent the previous 15 years helping out with the Challenger League that played at Buckeye Woods. That program was started in 1997 by Ron Knight, Mike Rocheck and Bill Nicolay.

With the help of organizations like the Medina Lions Club, the programs switched involvement to the Miracle League, a national organization.

The group was able to install a turf field, which it received from a college in Texas, to replace the football practice field, and establish an adult league that was unlike any around to go with its youth league.

Kevin Burkart of the Orioles gets a little help from Justin Boughter of the Aces during their game against the Royals in a Miracle League game at Sam Masi Park in Medina. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

Kevin Burkart of the Orioles gets a little help from Justin Boughter of the Aces during their game against the Royals in a Miracle League game at Sam Masi Park in Medina. (RON SCHWANE / GAZETTE)

“I have four players in the adult league that have been with us since the beginning, which shows they enjoy it,” Richardson said. “Some of the parents come out on the field and help, while others sit in the stands and watch. They enjoy seeing their child doing something in an independent atmosphere. It’s a real pride thing for the players.”

The youth league also developed the buddy league, where a player from the Medina Youth Baseball Association teams with a Miracle League player for a game.

With the help of MYBA president Joe Lucarelli, players from the league’s under-12 teams to 18-year-old division volunteer to help with swinging the bat, fielding the ball and running the bases.

“I tell our (MYBA) kids that they look at them like professional baseball players because of their uniforms,” Richardson said. “Our players will go out there with their mom and dad to start and when the buddy players show up, they tell them to go sit in the stands because they want to play with them.

“The boys enjoy it, too. I think they walk on the field with a new appreciation of the opportunity to play.”

The youth league takes the field on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and will play through the end of the month, while the adult league plays on Wednesday and Sunday. Players from Medina County, Strongsville, Copley and Wooster take part in both leagues.

Richardson said improvement — and passion — is on display as well as an ability to hit and field the ball.

“We don’t have to throw too many pitches to them, that’s for sure,” he said. “Sometimes we will keep track of putouts and it’s great to see the throws coming across to first (base) or to second. We’re seeing nice fielding plays that weren’t happening before.”

Those interested in volunteering with the Miracle League can visit www.miracleleagueofnortheastohio.com or contact Richardson via email at greenmmkj@zoominternet.net.

Contact Dan Brown at sports@medina-gazette.com.