The Student News Site of University of Texas at Arlington (Department of Communication)

Lone Star Sentinel

The Student News Site of University of Texas at Arlington (Department of Communication)

Lone Star Sentinel

The Student News Site of University of Texas at Arlington (Department of Communication)

Lone Star Sentinel

Miracle League swings into action after Arlington mayor throws out first pitch

Adaptive sports program offers children and adults with disabilities the opportunity to play baseball
Shelby Carter
A player swings at a ball during the game on March 23 at Doug Inman Field.

ARLINGTON, Texas – Miracle League DFW held its opening ceremonies on March 23 at the Doug Inman Field in Randol Mill Park to mark the start of a new spring season.

The non-profit organization has nearly 300 players participating this season, which is a slight increase from last year’s fall season.

Mayor Jim Ross attended the opening day ceremonies and threw out the first pitch to officially kick off the start of the season.

“I am so proud of Arlington every time I come out here,” Ross said. “This just speaks volumes for who we are.”

Played on a rubberized field, each game only last two innings, every player gets the chance to bat, there are no outs and every game ends in a tie. But why is it that the games are played this way?

“It’s just a celebration,” Executive Director Grace Whetstone said. “It’s just for the work that you’ve put in while you were there. You tried to catch a ball, you tried to hit a ball, and we don’t want to take that away.”

To the players, it’s not just about playing a game. It’s about making new friends, building self-esteem and being treated like other athletes. To help players feel safe on the field, there’s a “buddy” system, which pairs each player with an able-bodied volunteer. For a player, the connections made through teammates and buddies alike is a bond that cannot be described with words.

“There’s a camaraderie between friends and you always want it to be that way,” Whetstone said. “Everyone walks away with a win.”

There has been an improvement to the game for higher-functioning players. Those who can run without assistive devices, hit the ball far into the outfield and want a little more friendly competition are able to move to the Blue Field, which is a softball field with real grass and dirt and elevated bases.

When asked about the future of Miracle League’s development into more inclusivity of all disabilities, including those of higher function who want to learn the rules of baseball and compete, Whetstone said that if there were enough players, it would be a possibility.

Coach Gina Eastman has been involved with Miracle League since her daughter, Emma, who is on the autism spectrum, was 5 years old. Her favorite part of Miracle League was not only seeing her daughter play and the joy that came with it, but it also was meeting other families who have children on the spectrum.

“It’s just as much about the families as it is the players,” Eastman said. “It was always important to us when Emma was young to get involved with other parents of special needs children because I just felt like I could relax around them, that Emma could be herself.”

Spectators watch players during a game on March 23 at Doug Inman Field.

Eastman currently coaches the Senior Cubs and the Classic Reds teams along with her husband, Dave. After Emma’s coach left before a new season, the pair wanted to give it a try, and they’ve loved it ever since.

When asked about her coaching tactics, she says it’s all about making things comfortable for both players and their families.

“Many times, when they’re new to Miracle League, they’re not really sure how it works,” Eastman said. “I stress to them that it’s such a wonderful experience and they’re going to meet other parents with special needs individuals.”

On game days, Eastman encourages new and returning players to get to know one another because they are all on the same team and want to have fun while playing. For new players, she walks them through the process of how to bat and how to take the field.

“I give them a run-down of what the field looks like and that actually helps them feel more comfortable,” Eastman said. “As the game goes on, if they don’t have a grasp on what’s the game, eventually they will, but we’re just very patient with them.”

According the Miracle League website, the first adaptive field opened in Conyers, Georgia, in April 2000. Currently, there are more than 350 Miracle League Organizations across the country, including Puerto Rico and Canada, while serving more than 450,000 children and adults with disabilities. The DFW chapter of Miracle League was founded in 2005 by Doug Inman, after whom the field is named.

Doug Inman Field in Randol Mill Park on March 23.
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