- December 12, 2011
SARASOTA COUNTY — Three years ago, Bob Mitchell was helping one of his clients with a life insurance policy when his life changed forever.
The client — Major League Baseball relief pitcher Trever Miller — had three children, the third of which had a profound disability. Through their discussion, Miller told Mitchell about his involvement with the Miracle League, a non-profit organization designed to provide an opportunity for all children to play baseball regardless of their ability, and how he helped build a ballpark for children with disabilities in St. Petersburg.
But it wasn’t until Mitchell watched a DVD from Bryant Gumbel’s interview with Frank Deford, following his piece on the Miracle League, that he became involved with the organization.
“It just hit me in the right place,” Mitchell said. “I thought, ‘Why can’t we do that in Sarasota?’ I just have a place in my heart for that kind of stuff and the (people) that have to deal with those issues.”
Now, three years later, Mitchell is the president of the Miracle League of Manasota; and the organization is preparing to break ground on a new ballpark at Longwood Run Park in Sarasota across the street from University Park Country Club.
“There are 14,000 kids with disabilities in Sarasota and Manatee combined, and that number is growing all of the time,” Mitchell said.
On June 18, the Miracle League of Manasota held its official launch party at McKechnie Field, prior to the start of the Bradenton Marauders game against the Jupiter Hammerheads.
In November, the organization plans to break ground on its new $1.2 million ballpark with the hopes of playing baseball in the spring of 2011 in conjunction with Spring Training. The Miracle League of Manasota currently is finalizing plans with Sarasota County for phase one of the project, which will include paving the field and the parking lot.
The new facility will be completely barrier free and will feature a flat rubberized surface to accommodate anyone with adaptive equipment. Additionally, the Miracle League of Manasota plans to build concession stands, restrooms and a message board so players can see their names, among other amenities.
“We’re building a field where kids can be kids,” Mitchell said. “Our goal is to attract about 2% of the available kids to play, and that would make for a real nice league.”
The new league is designed primarily for school-age children between the ages of 5 and 22. Every player has an opportunity to bat, and the teams won’t keep score, making it a league designed strictly for the children to have fun.
“It’s their one time during the week when they’re not kids with disabilities,” Mitchell said. “They’re just kids playing baseball. It takes away their caregivers, so to speak, and the environment of being disabled; and gives them a sense of empowerment knowing they can do things everyone else can do.”
The league likely will play its games on Saturday mornings so it doesn’t conflict with Manatee County’s Challenger League, which plays on a traditional surface. Instead, the league hopes its new facility will offer an additional opportunity for children with special needs.
“Not all kids want to play or can play in the Challenger League, but we didn’t want to have to have the kids make a choice,” Mitchell said. “This will give kids an additional opportunity or a first opportunity because Challenger didn’t have what they needed.”
Although the Miracle League only requires that fields extend 125 feet out to center field, the field at Longwood Run Park will be 190 feet, allowing for wheelchair softball games.
To date, the league has raised a little more than $550,000 for the project. Sarasota County officials approved $500,000 for the project, and the league was awarded a $50,000 grant from the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation. Additionally, the league has also received grants from the Community Fund of Lakewood Ranch and the Rotary Club of Lakewood Ranch, Mitchell said.
For more information on the Miracle League of Manasota, visit the organization’s website at www.miracleleaguemanasota.org.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].