By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
Most of us take for granted the gift of health. We get so caught up in our everyday lives of hustle and bustle that we forget how lucky we are to do the things we enjoy, such as riding bikes, jogging in the park or playing with our kids.
Few sporting events trigger our senses like a baseball game. The smells of hotdogs and popcorn or the sound of the crowd cheering as a kid lays down a key bunt for the home team is nostalgic. It takes us away to some fantastic place.
I visited a youth travel baseball tournament in Rainbow City at the Vivien Leigh Maddox Sports Complex on April 21 to simply take a few pictures of some youngsters doing what they do best – playing baseball.
It was a chance encounter. Little did I expect I was about to witness a miracle on the baseball diamond.
At 2 p.m. spectators crowded the stands and fences of Field #2 for the next game. I quickly moved to the open third base dugout for a front-row view. I heard a commotion of cheers from the leftfield corner. Accompanied by men wearing professional baseball jerseys, a large group of kids in baseball uniforms were making their way toward my dugout.
I immediately recognized these kids were not typical players. Each one of them suffered from a debilitating physical or mental handicap.
Each kid grinned ear to ear as they made their way toward the dugout and the crowd erupted in applause. The children were about to play the game of their lives.
A few minutes later professional singer/songwriter and Geraldine native Michelle Norwood walked to home plate and sang the national anthem. After finishing, Norwood called her son Hunter to home plate.
Norwood wrote “The Hunter Song” a few years back in honor of her son, who suffers from certain handicaps. There wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium, including Norwood, as she sang her song to her son. The two rarely broke eye contact during the song, and Hunter smiled the entire time as if to help his emotional mother through the song.
I looked around at the former players during the song and tears streamed under their sunglasses. Even they couldn’t contain their emotions.
The names of the 13 participating players were then announced. Accompanied by a former Major League Baseball player from this area, each player took the field as his or her name was called.
The crowd cheered and whistled as each player assumed his/her chosen position on the field. Some kids walked to their spots, while others were carried by their accompanying pro players. A couple of the kids rolled to their positions in wheelchairs while the men walked alongside of them.
The first child went to the plate and was handed a bat. The kid slapped an infield groundball off the hitting tee. The crowd cheered as he ran toward first base, smiling and pumping his arms in the air in celebration of the hit. When he reached first base, he received “high-fives” from his MLB friend and even took a bow to the crowd.
Another player fielded all the groundballs hit to him with near perfect, gold glove quality. After each throw to first base, the child rewarded himself for his performance by tossing his glove to the ground and jumping into the air.
The game went on for over an hour as each player took his or her turn at the plate and in the field. Cameras flashed and the crowd cheered as each kid trekked around the bases and scored runs. Some took longer than others to make it around the basepaths, but they made it.
From the first batter to the last man out, the kids played the best game of their lives.
After the game, one parent told me of their child’s wish to one day play baseball. Another parent said it was no doubt the greatest moment of their child’s life. One of the kids told me it was the most fun he’d ever had.
One former professional player told me it was the single greatest achievement he had ever seen in over 25 years of baseball. I concurred.
Baseball is doubtless a beautiful, poetic sport. The Miracle Game was humbling and inspirational to everyone who watched it. The sparkling moments on the field were plentiful and a writer more skilled with prose than myself could easily capture them as the work of art they were.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium that afternoon but there was a smile on every face. I was fortunate to witness the true beauty of baseball.
Joshua Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.