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Miracle League Opening Day, By St Clair College Student Andrew Bradley
Miracle League Opening Day, By St Clair College Student Andrew Bradley
Posted September 15, 2013

BY ANDREW BRADLEY
Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013

The Amherstburg Miracle League, a piece of baseball heaven, held opening day ceremonies Saturday, Sept. 7 at 10 am. The nine-team, 140-player league for intellectually and physically disabled players runs Saturdays until Oct. 26. The ballpark, at the southeast corner of Meloche Road and Simcoe Street, has a turf playing surface so that players in wheelchairs can play. Players are paired with volunteers called ‘buddies’ who help with hitting, running the bases and fielding.

“When you have a child or an adult child with a disability, it can often be very isolating,” said league spokesperson Michele Vigneux. “But the sense of community that’s developed among the parents and fans, and even some of the buddies and volunteers …[has] created a strong awareness that people with disabilities have endless things to offer us.” 

The first Miracle League formed in 1997 in metro-Atlanta, Georgia after a disabled child asked to play on a local team. Today, according to miracleleague.com, there are over 250 leagues throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Australia and Canada. “Chuck Bondy, who’s our president, had seen some Miracle League games,” said Vigneux, whose son is a player, “and really thought this would be an awesome thing for Amherstburg …and through a lot of combined efforts we were able to get the funding and build the very first and only Miracle League in Canada.”

“It’s all a highlight, that’s for sure,” said paramedic Dan Metcalfe, of Harrow, on duty for Saturday’s opener. “They’re great players and fun to watch.” Essex County EMS provides ambulances, and paramedics volunteer 16 Saturdays a year. “The drivers fight over shifts,” said Chuck Bondy. These are popular games.

Before the field was built, Bondy hosted a tournament for 55 disabled kids. “Halfway through the day we had a torrential downpour,” said Bondy, “and we had to move indoors to the arena.” Wheelchairs were getting stuck in the mud. Now the miracle players have their own field. There’s a home run fence and covered dugouts, an announcer’s booth, a public address system and, most importantly, scores of dedicated volunteers. There’s also a commemorative wall for players who have died, “Players who now play in the big league.”

The rules of the game are simple: no one is called out, every player bats, scores a run and the last batter of each inning hits a home run. “And the bonus about it is that families have been able to connect and develop friendships and informal supports,” said Vigneux. “It’s opened [people’s] eyes to look at individuals with disabilities in a new and inspiring way.” And everyone wins. Baseball heaven at its best.

To register and for schedules, fundraising and volunteer opportunities please visit amherstburgmiracle.com or call 519 919 4641.