MacKenzie MacDonald swung and connected, sending the ball deep into the outfield. She smiled broadly as she reached first, then advanced to second, then third and eventually reached home.
“It is fun. It’s a good opportunity because even special needs people can play,” said MacDonald, 31, a resident of a group home operated by Hills & Dales in Dubuque.
MacDonald, some of her housemates and a group of local children took turns hitting the ball and running the bases Tuesday at the Miracle League of Dubuque field, an all-inclusive ballpark at Veterans Memorial Park designed and staffed to accommodate all levels and abilities.
“That’s exactly what this whole thing is about,” said Tom Witry, a retired Hempstead High School baseball coach and one of the organizers for the $4.5 million Miracle League of Dubuque project, which includes the baseball field and an all-inclusive playground with equipment that includes chair-like swings and a zip line.
Dubuque Leisure Services and Miracle League volunteers are hosting free “prep and play camps” at the field from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Thursdays this summer.
“It’s amazing. We’ve waited almost two years to get people on the field,” said Janna Beau, program supervisor for the local Miracle League. “Our hope is to have (the Tuesday and Thursday events) be a training and conditioning camp. We want to get all levels and ages to come out and play.”
On Tuesday, some kids whacked softballs off of a tee. Others swung and struck pitches lobbed to them by a Miracle League volunteer who also happens to be an Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame member — retired Wahlert Catholic High School coach Ed Feyen.
“When Tom (Witry) asked me to help, I couldn’t turn this down,” Feyen said.
Tre Talo, 7, of Dubuque, sprayed line drives across the park Tuesday.
“It was fun,” Tre said. “I like it because you can get home runs if you hit it hard enough.”
Sophia Lahey, 10, of Sherrill, Iowa, took a brief water break after she pounded the ball and raced around the bases a few times.
“This field is nice,” Sophia said. “Playing on it is fun because it gets you working out.”
Beau said the field welcomes and encourages players of all abilities.
“It is technically everyone’s field,” she said. “Everyone can come and play.”
The field also will be staffed four evenings per week this month and five nights per week starting in July.
“It is supervised, and we have sanitized equipment here,” Beau said. “Anyone can come and play.”
Witry said he expects teams to form for all-inclusive league play by this fall. He is seeking volunteers to act as “field angels,” who can help players of differing abilities successfully swing the bat or run the bases as needed.
“Each player will bat twice — there will be no outs — and the other team will come in to bat after each half-inning,” Witry said of league play.
On Tuesday, MacDonald cheered from a dugout bench as one of her housemates, Brook Scherf, stole second base, and other players continued to bash the balls past Witry into the outfield. Another of MacDonald’s housemates, Becky Klinefelter, took off for home from third base after a player’s hard-hit smash into the outfield.
“It’s nice having younger kids and special needs people play together,” MacDonald said. “Even if it’s different age groups, it’s cool.”