by Derrick Williams
It’s been said that for many, the game of baseball is more than just a game. It provides an opportunity to be special. For some, though, it’s just an opportunity to be normal — to be just another kid.
That’s why Todd Mooney was excited to enter his son Keegan into the Miracle League last summer –– a baseball league for children with special needs –– despite the fact he’d be traveling from Lakeville to Blaine on game-day. “We’re always looking for sports that are adaptive to our son,” said Mooney, “we just wanted him to participate as any typical child would.”
Soon, Keegan will be able to play baseball closer to home. On February 5, the Lakeville City Council endorsed a plan to build a Miracle Field at King’s Park where children with disabilities will be able to safely play baseball. The City Council approved the donation of four acres of land at the youth baseball complex, which currently has eight regular baseball fields at Dodd Road and 185th Street.
Realizing a need
On a sun drenched, summer day two years ago, Brian Roseen and his 13-year-old son were playing catch at Quigley-Sime Park in Lakeville. While playing, a young boy in a wheelchair rolled up to their field.
“We tried to find a way for him to play with us,” Roseen said. “The field, though, just wasn’t made for it. My son said, ‘That’s not fair.’ I agreed.”
That experience prompted Roseen, who was already active with the Lakeville Baseball Association, to begin searching for information about baseball fields for children with disabilities. He soon stumbled upon the Miracle League of Minnesota, a nonprofit group providing opportunities for children with disabilities ages 3 to 19 to play baseball.
“I wondered what it’d be like to have a league and field like that in Lakeville,” Roseen said. “So I made some phone calls.”
Spreading a dream
Kevin Thoresen was lounging in a hotel room in Arizona two-years ago when he was struck with an epiphany. “I was laying there watching TV when I saw a special on the Miracle League,” he said. “I’ve got children with special needs so it struck me real hard.”
It didn’t take long for Thoresen to launch the Miracle League of Minnesota, an off-shoot from the national Miracle League organization.
Miracle Fields are different than a regular baseball fields because they’re designed with a cushioned, rubberized surface, wheelchair access to the field and dugouts, and a flat, barrier free surface to help visually impaired players or players in wheelchairs. The Miracle League utilizes the special fields and provides children with mental and/or physical challenges an opportunity to play baseball as a team member in an organized league.
“Children with disabilities don’t typically get to play organized sports,” Thoresen said. “This just seemed like a wonderful opportunity and something we needed in Minnesota.”
Each child in the league is paired with a volunteer who then helps them play the game. Thoresen calls it a buddy system.
Thoresen now serves as executive director for the Miracle League of Minnesota, and was the man whom Roseen contacted last year about bringing a Miracle League to Lakeville.
“We had just launched our first league in Blaine when [Roseen] called,” Thoresen said. “I told him, ‘We’ve been waiting for your phone call.”
The Miracle League, under Thoresen’s leadership had just spearheaded the construction of a Miracle Field and league in Blaine and were looking for other places in Minnesota to set up leagues. “The fields and the leagues are funded through donations,” Thoresen said. “We can’t just go around soliciting fields. We wait for communities to contact us.”
Lakeville, it turns out, is just one of a few communities who have jumped on board the Miracle League band wagon. Mankato, Rochester and Minnetonka have all begun construction or have target dates for completion for Miracle Fields, and Thoresen said that he’s been working with Duluth and Sioux Falls, South Dakota to bring fields to those communities.
Bringing a miracle to Lakeville
Lakeville’s parks and Recreation Director Steve Michaud said that the Miracle Field at King’s park will serve most of the communities south of the river. “There are a lot of special needs children in the community,” he said. “This is just another way for the city to meet the needs of a very progressive and diverse population base.”
The Lakeville Baseball Association is not only in charge of soliciting donations for the project, but will ultimately run the Miracle League that calls the field home. The city will be in charge of maintaining the field.
Actual construction of the filed will be a two phase project. The first phase will encompass construction of the field at an estimated cost of $400,000; the second will improve seating, the entrance and landscaping and cost and additional $400,000.
Phase one, Michaud said, could be completed this fall, but nothing is set in stone.
In addition to baseball, the fields could be used for other sports such as soccer and basketball, Michaud said.
Roseen said that while working on this project he has been blown away by the cooperation and commitment to the project exhibited by both the city of Lakeville and the Miracle League of Minnesota. “I’ve never heard the word ‘No,” Roseen said. “Never a ‘I don’t think so,’ or ‘We can’t do that.’ It’s been the coolest thing.”
Mayor Holly Dahl was enthusiastic about the project at the February 5 Council meeting. “Kids are near and dear to my heart,” she said. “It’s wonderful and it’s something that parents in our community have asked for.”
Heather Thelen’s 9-year-old son Ben played in Blaine last year, but she admits the prospects of watching him play close to home in their community excites her. “This is another way for him to be accepted,” she said. “Now he can make some friends here in Lakeville. My heart is just filled with warmth.”
Mooney said that his son Keegan will be playing ball in Blaine again this year but he is also looking forward to the opportunity for his son to play baseball closer to home.
Donations can be made to the Miracle League of Minnesota and the Lakeville Baseball Association.
For more information, or to see a list of upcoming fundraisers for the league and field, visit the Miracle League’s Web site at www.miracleleaguemn.com or visit the Lakeville Baseball Association Web site at www.lakevillebaseball.org.
Derrick Williams is at email@example.com.