It’s built, but will they come? -- Gazette.Net


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Opening day is fast approaching at the specially designed Miracle Field in Germantown, which caters to children with mental and physical disabilities. But the baseball league’s sponsors have a problem: They want to have more games each week, and need more players to do it.

Aside from the attention the field received when it opened in August 2011, people don’t really know the league is there, said Jim Leder, president of the nonprofit Miracle League of Montgomery County.

“We’ve been just like a nonentity,” said Leder. “We have room for more children, or even adults or seniors.”

In past seasons, the league has had about 30 children participating, said Judy Stiles, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County Recreation, which handles registration for the league. As of last week, only two had registered for the Spring 2013 season, she said.

The league, which currently has no age limit, plays one game of baseball per week each season. Players gather at the field at the South Germantown Recreational Park on Saturday mornings, then divide into teams and play for about an hour and a half, said Marv Jackson, one of the league’s trustees.

Other than that, the field isn’t being used, he said.

Funded in part by a grant from the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, Miracle Field is equipped with a special rubber surface, so children with walkers or wheelchairs can run the bases and play in the outfield without injuring themselves.

The field cost about $1 million to build. There is a seasonal registration fee of $45 per player for county residents and $60 for nonresidents.

Each player is partnered with a non-disabled “buddy” for the duration of the game. Every player gets a chance to bat and run the bases each inning, and each team is considered the winner.

“The feeling that they get, and the looks in their faces ... it’s just unbelievable,” Jackson said.

The league’s spring season runs from April 13 to June 22.

The county’s recreation department has used email to reach out to families of children who have played in the league in the past, as well as all children registered for the county’s general youth basketball program — about 10,000 families in all, Stiles said.

The department also contacted organizations that provide services to the disabled in the community, and sent flyers home in the backpacks of students at Longview School, Stephen Knolls School and Carl Sandburg Learning Center — the three county schools with special-education programs, Stiles said.

“We’re looking, in the fall, to build a soccer league on the field,” Stiles said. “We’re also looking to expand programs to adults with disabilities.” Games such as kickball, T-ball and softball also could be offered at the field, she said.

Finding the Miracle Field has been a great help for Sean Ryan of Kensington, whose son, Joseph, 9, has autism.

Ryan said it can be difficult to find activities that Joseph wants to participate in, but he has enjoyed playing baseball and knows some of the other players from school. Joseph’s sister, Shannon, 6, also plays with the league, Ryan said.

“It’s a great field,” said Ryan, who also helps coordinate the league. “Nice to play on, well-maintained.”

Ryan, an electrician, said seeing the children play on the field makes the usual worries and stresses of the week disappear.

“I see the smiles on their faces,” Ryan said. “I forget all about the other stuff.”

dleaderman@gazette.net