July 7 2014
For kids, the summer season means many things: freedom from school, pool days, ice cream, and of course, baseball. Fields all over the city are filled with children running around bases and swinging at lobbed pitches.
But one field in particular is unique. The Werner Family Foundation Field is home to the YMCA of Metro Milwaukee’s Miracle League, a baseball program for children with cognitive and physical disabilities.
The program gives all kids -- no matter their abilities -- the chance to experience America’s favorite pastime. Kids with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, ADHD and other disorders get to play and enjoy the game just as their peers do in traditional little league. They bat, run bases and play outfield.
“So whether they’re in a wheelchair or are fully functional and can run on their own two feet, we’re able to give everyone the chance to play baseball,” said James Lundstrom, inclusive recreation manager for the YMCA of Metro Milwaukee.
The field is a flat, cushioned and rubberized surface that allows for easy running and wheeling for those with walkers and wheelchairs.
During the two-inning game, each player is paired with a volunteer “buddy” to mentor them on the field and in the dugout. A play-by-play announcer pumps up the crowd with a different walk-up song for each hitter as they take a swing at a pitched ball or from a tee. The kids can take as many swings as they need, and everyone scores once per inning.
And the most exciting part, the last batter of each inning hits a grand slam. While there are no strikes or outs, there are abundant smiles and high fives.
And playing baseball has a practical benefit, too.
“Baseball is a great sport for them to work on their motor skills and their development,” Lundstrom said. “Whether it’s running around and getting exercise, or using their hands to hold a glove or bat or hit the ball.”
The Miracle League’s season has started but kids can register throughout the summer and volunteers are always needed as Buddies for games.
More information about registering or volunteering can be found on Miracle League’s Website. Click the player above to hear Nate Imig’s interview with James Lundstrom and Cleveland, a player in the league.