The Detroit Tigers have been playing baseball for nearly two months now, but for Steve Peck, the start of the season that really counts is still more than two weeks away.
He’s the non-salaried, happily genial commissioner of the Miracle League of Michigan, where everyone is a true all-star.
The Miracle League is designed to give children with every kind of physical and mental disability the chance to play baseball.
One little boy named Dylan can’t walk, but thanks to his able-bodied buddy, has no trouble rounding second base. The parents of Jennifer, a little girl with Down’s syndrome, say they’ve been blown away by how much self-confidence playing has given her.
Peck, a radio host and marketing and communications consultant, says he thinks this may be the most rewarding thing he’s ever done. It started almost eight years ago, when by chance he saw an HBO special about the first-ever Miracle League, which had been founded in Rockville, Georgia in the late 1990s.
The kids played on a special rubberized diamond, so that wheelchairs and walkers could move around. Every child was able to get hits, make runs, and round the bases, thanks to the assistance of a volunteer buddy. There was nothing else like it in the country.
Peck was inspired. Why should Georgia have all the fun? He went to work and got the City of Southfield to donate some prime land in their civic center complex. He raised the $325,000 necessary to have the special rubberized field built, and got the league going.
That was eight years ago. Things have been expanding ever since. There are various levels of play now. Some are non-competitive, where everyone just scores runs and has a good time. In others, they play for keeps. There are now some Miracle Leagues groups where challenged adults can participate.
There’s another Miracle League diamond in Bridgeport now, near Frankenmuth, and they are building one in Ypsilanti. They have four hundred players, and want to accommodate every kid who wants to play. They could use some help with that. Yes, they’ll take money, and they are legally a fully tax-deductible enterprise. But able-minded volunteers - “buddies” to help the kids on the field are almost more welcome.
“Most of these parents spend their whole lives being caregivers. It is nice for them to have a chance to just sit in the stands, and watch their kids, like other parents do,” Peck told me. He then honored me by asking if I would be willing to throw out the first ball sometime. I was honored, but didn’t feel worthy.
Naturally, the Miracle League needs cash donations too. Plans have been made and space secured for a building that would house both a concession stand and restrooms - something especially important for special needs folks. They just need money to build it.
Historians have said that the two unique things about America are our constitution and baseball. Much of our history is the story of expanding our constitutional rights and freedoms to people who didn’t qualify to vote when the country began. Somehow, it does my heart good to see someone doing that for baseball too.
If you are interested in learning more, there’s lots on the Miracle League’s website, www.michiganmiracle.org.