April 14, 2013

A season of miracles

League brings big smiles

By Devin Golden

— ROCKY FACE — Eli Davis often watches his older brother play baseball.

On Saturday, it was the younger brother rounding the bases and sliding home and Coahulla Creek High School baseball player Kip Davis doing the cheering.

Eli Davis was just one of the 90 special-needs kids who participated in the Miracle League of Whitfield County’s opening day, held at the Miracle Field at Westside Park on Mount Vernon Road.

The Miracle League — a youth baseball program for children who cannot participate in regular recreation leagues due to either a physical or mental disability — is played on a synthetic rubber field aimed at the safety of all participants. If players want to slide, like Eli Davis did twice when he reached home plate, they can.

A player for the Braves and Dawnville Elementary student, Davis slid home on the final play of his game. When asked what he liked most about playing baseball, he said, “catching and hitting.” His mother, Kim Davis, said he has had a lot of time to watch from the stands. Because of his low muscle tone, she said it hasn’t been safe for him to play since Tee-ball.

“He got so excited when we talked about him playing on this team,” Kim Davis said. “We’re truly blessed for him to be able to come out to a field like this. His older brother plays baseball, too, so he’s at a baseball game all the time.”

After last year’s fall season, where there were just four teams and two age groups, the spring has six squads covering three age groups and there were three games on Saturday. In ages 5-8, there are the Braves and Cardinals. For ages 9-12, it is the Dodgers and Yankees. For ages 13 and up, players sported their Red Sox or Angels uniforms.

“This is a big increase from last fall,” said Millie Hicks, co-director of the Miracle League. “We had around 60 kids and now we’re split into three different age groups. It is growing.”

Accompanying each player is a “buddy,” someone at least 15 years old who keeps the player focused and safe. On Saturday, it was high school students at Christian Heritage.

“Some kids don’t understand it, but the volunteers help make it work,” Braves coach Kathy Blackwell said. “Even the ones who you think don’t pay attention, their parents come up and tell us, ‘They’re always looking forward to the games on Saturday morning.’”

Henry Helton, a 9-year-old Yankees player and Westside Elementary student, is one of the players who couldn’t wait for the season to begin. He played in the fall and also enjoyed taking his first swings of the season. Each player took an at-bat in each inning, and each batter reached base safely and got the chance to round the bases as fans, teammates and coaches cheered.

“I get to hit it and then run all the way around the bases,” Helton said.

For Christian Heritage sophomore Jordan Suddath, Helton’s buddy, there is a lot of enjoyment on her end as well. Suddath said she wants to study special education in college.

“It’s a real dream to come out here and help,” she added.

And it’ll be other schools sharing those experiences in the coming weeks. Hicks said Northwest Whitfield will volunteer next Saturday, the second of six scheduled for the spring season. There also will be two nights this spring where teams will play one another.