The Miracle League: Lehigh Valley’s Field of Dreams

By Jennifer LoConte

It’s a crystal clear summer day at the ball field. Parents sit on bleachers shouting words of encouragement while young players eagerly await their turn at bat. As the cliché goes, baseball is as American as apple pie; however for these players with special needs, it’s something they only dreamed about doing until an organization called The Miracle League came into their lives. Presently, there are 240 Miracle League organizations across the country and worldwide. The Lehigh Valley is fortunate to have one of these fields in its own backyard, The Miracle League of the Lehigh Valley.

In December 2005, a group of local philanthropists met to discuss a new project to help children with special needs. After viewing an HBO “Real Sports” segment on The Miracle League, these individuals were adamant about constructing the same ballpark in the Lehigh Valley. Their goal was for kids to be playing on it by the following summer…not an easy task. Where to build the ballpark was the first concern, but thanks to the generosity of David Jaindl, who sold the land for merely $1.00, that question was quickly answered. Jaindl says, “It’s pretty unheard of to have an idea in December, file plans in January, get approval in February, break ground in April and have kids playing ball in July.” Additionally, what had been a $1million project was completed for $750,000 thanks to in-kind donations by contractors and construction crews. Jaindl says, “It was the community that came together and helped expedite the process in addition to dedicated individuals such as Kostas Kalogeropoulos.” Kalogeropoulos, a well-known Lehigh Valley philanthropist who was largely responsible for the creation of this ballpark, remains immensely committed to the Miracle League. He says, “It is always amazing to see the transformation of these families from one game to the next. Parents are at first hesitant to let go of their child’s wheelchair but after a few games, they do, and can watch from the sidelines as their child plays the game that he or she has wanted so desperately to play.”

On July 27, 2006, Fowler Field, part of Jaindl Family Park, was open for business. The field, which also includes a park  designed especially for these players, is located at 5858 Sell Road in Schnecksville, along Rt. 309, approximately 9 miles from Route 22. (The field gets its name from the Fowler family, who made a generous contribution to make the field a reality.)The field is composed of Mondo Super X Performance Turf, a flat rubberized surface, used for the Olympics. Melissa Borland, Executive Director, has watched the league grow exponentially over the years. She says, “The first year there were 75 kids signed up.  In 2007, we grew to 150. Today, there are just over 300 players registered from all over the Lehigh Valley, including some from other nearby counties as well as New Jersey.” Borland explains that each child is part of a team and receives a cap and jersey named after a major league team.

Everyone gets a turn at bat and the last player of each inning automatically hits a homerun. Every player is assigned a buddy (a volunteer that assists with running the bases). The season runs May through October however Borland works tirelessly to keep the organization running all year long. During Halloween, kids trick or treat on the field transformed by vendors to look like a neighborhood. At Christmas, children and their families enjoy a special visit from Santa and a holiday meal. Other events include movie days, indoor baseball games and arts and crafts. Borland says, “It’s important for the kids to stay connected all year long and form lasting friendships as well as just be like other kids.”

This year marks the 5th anniversary and there are plans for expansion. Borland says more ground-level play will be added as well assensory rich equipment for the nearly 40% of autistic children who participate. She says, “We also plan on getting full button-down jerseys just like the pros wear.”  Registration is $40/child and includes all activities. The organization relies heavily on donations and private fundraisers and approximately 300 volunteers are needed each season. For more information, visit miracleleaguelv.org or contact Borland at [email protected]

A second Miracle League, this one of Northampton County, is in the preliminary stages. Board member Dan McKinney says the proposed field will be located directly outside of the Charles Chrin Community Center of Palmer Township. McKinney says, “This field will sit amongst other little league fields so that all kids can play baseball together.” In November 2010, a press conference was held, introducing board members and Honorary Chairman Brian Schneider of the Philadelphia Phillies. McKinney says that the proposed first pitch will be sometime in 2012. Financial or in-kind donations and volunteer opportunities are welcomed. Visit miracleleagueofnc.org or call 610-252-2098.

“Making a Difference” showcases Lehigh Valley nonprofit organizations and the work they are doing to improve life for adults and children in our community.

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