A dedication ceremony and baseball game celebrated the all-inclusive Miracle League of Dubuque complex on Tuesday morning.
Located at Veterans Memorial Park in Dubuque, the complex features a playground with wheelchair- and walker-accessible equipment and a ballfield with a cushioned, rubberized surface. The field was specifically designed to be playable for children and adults of all abilities.
On Tuesday, the players were split into two teams - the White Sox and the Yankees - whose names were inspired by the upcoming Major League Baseball game in Dyersville, Iowa. With smiles on their faces and new uniforms on their backs, the team members waved to the crowd as they each were introduced.
Everyone was a winner as the two teams tied at 30.
"They all get to hit. There is no pressure," said Laura Moyer of Galena, Ill. "They all get to have fun."
Moyer was supporting her son Ben, 17. Ben has cerebral palsy, and while he is nonverbal, Moyer said he uses sign language to ask every day if he can go play baseball.
"This area needed something like this (park and field)," Moyer said. "Ben gets to be part of a group. It is so accessible."
"There was nothing like this before," added Abby Moyer, Laura Moyer's daughter.
Tom Witry is a former Hempstead High School baseball coach who has been instrumental in the planning and fundraising to make the Miracle League field a reality.
“I told them (before the game) that I’d like to see as much interaction as they possibly can,” Witry said. “They can make a friend here for the rest of their lives. That’s what it’s all about.”
The friendly interaction was a theme throughout the game.
Players had smiles on their faces as they walked up to bat or picked up a ball in the field.
Each player also had a field buddy to run and walk with them and help them swing the bat if needed. The buddies were from Hempstead and Dubuque Senior high schools.
George Sherlock, 17, plays baseball at Hempstead and was with Logan Walker, 15, for the day.
"All of us helpers were very excited," George said. "We get to play baseball every day. They don't get that opportunity, but today, they did."
He said his older brother has cerebral palsy so the accessible playground and ball diamond was important for his family as it was something his brother never had while growing up.
Miracle League baseball began in Conyers, Ga., in 1998 when an area youth baseball association invited children with unique abilities to play on a typical baseball field. The event drew 140 people and sparked a phenomenon that has continued to grow ever since.
One year later, a new type of field was developed just for Miracle League athletes. Today, there are hundreds of organizations affiliated with Miracle League across the country.
In the days leading up to this week's MLB game in Dyersville, the Miracle League got a boost from some noteworthy donors.
FOX Sports partnered with equipment nonprofit Good Sports to donate nearly 800 pieces of specialized equipment, with a total value of more than $13,000
MLB donated custom White Sox and Yankees jerseys to the exhibition game players, featuring each player’s name and favorite number.
Dubuque resident Brandon Powers was a member of the Yankees team and said his favorite part of the game was hitting.
His mother, Carol Powers, said she knew her son had been coming to the ballfield with Dubuque’s Hills & Dales, but the playground was news to her.
“It’s exciting to see how excited they are,” Carol Powers said. “Even the ones that didn’t play (baseball) had a good time.”
Peter Williams, 6, said he loved running the bases. After the game, he was back on the field running with his walker.
His mother, Kirsten Williams, said she cried during the ceremony during which some of the donors who helped fund the Miracle League park spoke. A total of $4.5 million was raised to make the field a reality.
"(Peter) loves sports and the playground," Williams said. "It's nice to have a place that's safe. I can let him run around, or he can be in his wheelchair, and I don't have to worry."
The accessibility of the playground and its equipment was needed for Dubuque, said Merle Santjer, president of the Miracle League board.
"All children of all abilities can play together. That's the goal," he said.
Madilyn Klapatauskas, 9, did not participate in the baseball game but can be found enjoying the playground about two times a week, said her mother, Kathleen Klapatauskas.
"I like climbing," Madilyn said of her favorite playground activity.
Kathleen said there are always a lot of children playing when her family comes out to the Miracle League complex.
"We come here all the time. We love it," she said. "It's such an amazing feeling to know that people with disabilities can feel really integrated."