By Josh Price/ Special to the Messenger
Baseball diamonds were not designed with wheelchairs and crutches in mind. Natural grass and crushed red brick are barriers for special needs children.
Toward that end, Baseball Players Association and Alabama Xtreme Travelball will host the second annual charity baseball tournament benefiting the Miracle League on Aug. 2-4 at the Vivian Lee Maddox Sports Complex in Rainbow City.
“We want people to come watch and enjoy great youth baseball,” said BPA-Alabama president Scott Parrish said. “Hopefully everyone will make donations to the park, which will go to The Miracle League.”
The Miracle League, which builds custom-designed, rubberized playing fields that accommodates wheelchairs and other assertive devices while preventing injuries, currently serves over 200,000 children with physical disabilities across the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. The first Miracle League field opened in Conyers, Ga., in April of 2000.
A three-inning game on Aug. 3 at approximately 6 p.m. will feature Miracle League kids and former professional baseball with local roots. Former MLB players Steve Shields, Sta-cy Jones, Brian Doyle, La-rry Foster, Eddie Priest and Shane Barksdale are expected to attend this year’s event. Shields, Jones, Foster, Priest and Barksdale all were standout players or coaches for local high schools.
According to executive director Diane Alford, the Miracle League pairs each child on the field with a former MLB Player or an able-bodied player.
“The children bond with the players, breaking the exclusion barrier while building self-esteem,” she said.
Shields pitched Hokes Bluff High School to Class 2A state championships in 1975, 1976 and 1977. The 6’5, 200-pound righthander was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 10th round of the 1977 amateur draft. Shields pitched for the Atlanta Braves, Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins.
“Every kid should have the chance to play baseball, despite their disabilities,” Shields said. “This is a great opportunity once again for these kids to play ball and [Miracle League] is a great organization. That group is definitely working to help the right people.”
A standout pitcher for Etowah in the mid-late 1980’s, Jones was a part of the Blue Devils’ 1985 state championships. He earned a pitching scholarship to Auburn University, where he was a three-year starter. Jones was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the third round of the 1988 amateur draft. He pitched for the Orioles and the Chicago White Sox from 1991 to 1996.
Jones said he was moved by last year’s event and hopes that many more like it would develop in this community in the near future.
“We don’t get enough events like this for the special-needs kids. I am glad that the guys are organizing this tournament and I hope that everyone in the community comes out and supports it. Hopefully people will donate a little because it is truly going to a great cause.”
Eddie Priest was a star pitcher for the Susan Moore Bulldogs in the early 1990’s.
The Cincinnati Reds drafted the 6’1 lefthander in 1994. Priest was tapped the Reds’ starting pitcher against the San Francisco Giants on May 27, 1998, during which he struck out Barry Bonds looking.
Doyle was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the fourth round of the 1972 MLB amateur draft. The 5’10 second baseman bounced around the minor leagues until the New York Yankees called him up in 1978. Doyle replaced starting second baseman Willie Randolph when the latter was injured in September of that year.
The Yankees faced the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, during which Doyle lead New York in hitting with a .438 batting average.
Doyle said in all his years of baseball, nothing compares to the experience he gained working with Miracle League.
“A few years ago, I ran a very successful Hall of Fame fantasy camp in Ft. Myers, Florida. The camp featured many Cooperstown legends and we held a Miracle League game. After it was over, the clubhouse was a very emotional scene. Imagine all those famous baseball players showing that much emotion for those kids! The Miracle League experience is one of the best, true heart felt events I have ever been involved with.”
Doyle said the special needs kids are the true focus of the event.
“I look forward to coming again to Rainbow City this August for this years event. When Miracle Kids are playing baseball, the baseball field really becomes a diamond.”
Alford is confident that the Miracle League will continue to grow all over the nation and hopefully very soon will come to Gadsden.
“We are committed to help and assist cities around the globe to bring baseball to all individuals with disabilities.”
For information on entering teams in the tournament, contact BPA Alabama at 256.295.2580. For up to date information on the tournament, visit xtremetravelball.com or call 256.295.2580.
Chris McCarthy contributed to this story.