By Jim Newell
From the cheers, smiles and tears of their friends and families. From the applause of the approximately 1,500 people who showed up in support of the special needs athletes, the overwhelming emotion was joy, evident from the smiles on the faces of the kids and young adults who were about to play the first game on the Miracle League of North Oakland.
The Miracle League Field at Friendship Park opened on Friday evening with a grand celebration worthy of a World Series.
Which was the goal – to provide the athletes of Orion and Independence townships who have disabilities a night they would never forget.
The Miracle League Field was a joint project between Orion and Independence townships and Easterseals Michigan.
Steve Peck is founder of the Miracle League of Michigan.
“The Miracle League’s mantra is: every child deserves the opportunity to play baseball,” said Peck, who also served as the announcer for the game.
Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett said the communities raised more than $400,000 to build the field, without using taxpayers’ dollars.
“I want you to get really loud right now for the real reason that we’re here, and that’s for the kids and young adults and adults who’ve never quite had this experience in their lives, that are in our dugouts right now, let’s let them hear why we are here,” Barnett said to roaring cheers and applause from the fans.
The field has wheelchair accessible dugouts; a custom-designed, synthetic turf field that accommodates wheelchairs and other assistive devices while helping to prevent injuries; and an announcers’ booth and bleachers. There are also plans to build a concession stand near the field.
“Buddies” also assist players throughout the game, helping them bat, run the bases and field the ball, if needed.
The development of the Miracle League Field was a true community effort. Many people donated – large donors, or others donating whatever they could to support the field – without spending tax dollars, Barnett said.
Lake Orion resident Suzanne Baber, wearing her own Miracle League Field jersey, donated to the project and threw out the first pitch on opening night.
Perched atop the hill behind Homeplate, Rob Reighard and his family were seated comfortably in lawn chairs, blankets over their laps, as they enjoyed the game.
“It’s a nice night at the ballpark. It’s great for these kids,” said Reighard, who attended the game with his wife, Donna, son, Anthony, and daughter-in-law, Christina.
The Reighard’s, owners of M&B Graphics in downtown Lake Orion, were among the many locals who supported the development of the field. M&B donated the lettering on the players’ jerseys and hats and four banners to the field.
The Daisy Project of Michigan donated more than $50,000. The Lake Orion Wiffleball Association, which has supported the project from the original idea, donated more than $25,000 to the field.
Volunteers also helped physically work on parts of the field, such as building the dugouts the week leading up to the opening day, while community groups, like the Lake Orion Lions Club, and volunteers sold concessions during the game to donate to the field.
“People are what make this community the greatest community in the country. It’s all of you here right now on Friday night,” Barnett said.
For more photos see August 14 issue of The Lake Orion Review.