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A League of Their Own
Published Monday, April 27, 2009 3:00 PM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
paul.zoeller@mac.com
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He stood there eyeing the pitcher as he slid his hat around backwards. Jesse Cook couldn't seem to connect with the ball but stood confident as he waited for the next pitch. After ten missed balls, he knew what no one else did, this next ball was out of here.

As the ball sailed across the plate, Cook nailed it and watched as it sailed into the infield. The whole park burst into cheers as he jumped up and down and slammed the bat to the ground to celebrate his hit. He raced to first base as everyone rushed over to give him high fives and a pat on the back.


Liam Canron swings at the ball during a Summerville Miracle League baseball game.

Moments like that help us remember why we love the game so much; playing for the pure enjoyment of playing. On Saturday, I watched as athletes with the Summerville Miracle League played the game the way it is supposed to be played -- for fun.

The new league was conceived to allow those who are physically or mentally challenged to play a unique game of baseball on a specially designed field.


Game balls sit on the special rubber surface that covers the entire field.

League president Steve Hatton wanted to bring the Miracle League to Summerville after participating in a Charleston league. With the help of volunteers and the board of directors, Hatton designed and built the field at Saul Alexander Park.

The field is covered in rubber matting to allow for wheelchairs and walkers. Though it has the look of a real baseball diamond with a batter's box and baselines, the field is completely flat so no one gets hurt tripping on bases or slipping on the dirt.


Matthew Easton Bradberry leads his buddy, Jennifer Shovey, to the dugout after warming up.

The athletes who come to play have many challenges. Some deal with the physical challenges of wheelchairs or walkers while others might have mental challenges like Down Syndrome or Autism. To help them overcome these challenges and still enjoy the game, they have buddies that offer support during the game.


Ashton Bright sits with his dad Mike Bright as he watches the other team bat.

Buddies are fathers like Mike Bright who helps his son, Ashton Bright, chase down balls in the outfield when he is not climbing on his back and running around. Buddies are volunteers like Andrea Freeman who helps Marcus Durden hit the ball off a batting tee before pushing him around the bases in his wheelchair. All the buddies get to interact with the players and listen to them talk about everything from the game to wrestling-- which is Durden's favorite sport.


Andrea Freeman checks on Marcus Durden as they wait at third base.

The rules of the game are simple-- everyone gets to take a turn hitting the ball and everyone scores because no one is ever out. Some batters hit from the batting tee while others take a pitch. They don't leave the batter's box until they get a hit.

As the announcer said, "He is batting a .1000 this season."


Liam Canron races to first base after hitting the ball.

The players in the field chase after the ball hit by the batter and other balls tossed out there by coaches so everyone has a chance to field the ball and throw it. Buddies help on both sides of the ball from showing the players the proper hitting stance to helping them chase down ball.

Obviously the game ends in a tie, usually after two innings.


Friends and family cheer on the players.

The game is as exciting for the parents and fans as it is for the kids on the field. Jumping up and cheering, they celebrate each hit of the ball and each score for either team.

Just like a little league game where the outfielders pick flowers, the buddies play with and chase the players around. The interaction is just as important as the game to the kids.


Henry O' Grady takes his dad's hat as his buddy Josh Gale watches.

Some are serious players and can rip the ball into the outfield, while others enjoy their time outside laughing and playing.


Dougie Landhan connects with the ball.

All of the players, like Jesse Cook, are serious about having fun. Every time they hit the ball or score a run, they are grinning from ear to ear.


Jesse Cook gets serious as he turns his hat around at the plate.

They are not the only ones having fun. The parents yell out words of encouragement and the coaches run out to give the players a high five as they cross home plate. Students from local colleges volunteer to be buddies so they can interact with the children.


Ashton Bright gets a high five after scoring a run.

At the end, the game is tied and everyone is a winner. They don't need to win the game to feel good about their experience. They played the game for the same reasons we used to play, before sports became a business -- just for fun.


Members of the Buccaneers come together after the game.

The Summerville Miracle League is always looking for volunteers, donors, players and fans. Though they are in the middle of their inaugural season, there is room for more who want to play and a new season will start in the Fall.

For more photos of the games go to SeenIt.

Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at paul.zoeller@mac.com.


Comments (8)

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MLB article
Wednesday, October 19, 2011 5:39 PM

Great article; totally captured the spirit of MLB.

Posted by: John Bradley
Miracle
Thursday, April 30, 2009 7:11 PM

What a wonderful league. There should be one in every city. Joshua looked as though he was having lots of fun...

Posted by: Co Hoa
Awesome
Thursday, April 30, 2009 3:32 PM

That is so awesome. I grew up playing at the Laurel Street playground. I'm so happy for those who get a chance to have fun.

Posted by: Ernie Stender, Merrill, Wisconsin
Thursday, April 30, 2009 11:44 AM

Pictures speak 1000 words, and you have captured the true essence of the experience for ALL who are involved. Thanks to the many hands who make this possible, and thanks to you, Paul, for putting our hearts into words.

Posted by: H Annibale
Great Article
Thursday, April 30, 2009 12:12 AM

Paul that was a great great piece. Thanks for helping spread the word.

Posted by: Steve Hatton
Wednesday, April 29, 2009 4:36 PM

SWEEEEET! Someone who "gets it"...for the love of the game. Thanks for your perspective.

Posted by: Matt Halter
Wednesday, April 29, 2009 3:34 PM

Amazing Paul, the shadow picture with holding hands is my favorite!

Posted by: SBruder
play ball!
Tuesday, April 28, 2009 9:49 PM

Fantastic story!

Posted by: Chris Campeau


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