By Becca Robbins in Sports
Running the bases and swinging a bat are crucial parts of the game of baseball. Thanks to one Clark County organization, even wheelchairs and walkers have made their way onto the field.
The Miracle League of Vancouver, founded in 2007, provides children and adults with disabilities an opportunity to play on a baseball team in an organized league. The league in Vancouver is part of a national organization with over 260 leagues nationwide and internationally.
Clark’s baseball and softball teams have volunteered as buddies for five years, and the baseball team will again August 29. Buddies are volunteers who are paired with a player for the day and help them around the bases, keep them safe and give them pep talks.
“We can’t have the Miracle League without a volunteer program,” said Craig Mills, executive director of the league. Players get a new buddy each week and the goal is to let the parents sit and watch their kids. “You start to see a shy kid that started at the beginning of the year is an outgoing kid at the end of the year,” Mills said. According to Mills there are 25-35 buddies each week.
Head baseball coach Brett Neffendorf said Clark’s team will continue volunteering for as long as he’s the coach.
“One thing that I want our guys to understand is that we’re trying to make others more important than ourselves,” Neffendorf said.
The coach said that his players come out of their shells to help the kids, and that he thinks the experience shows them how fortunate they are. Several Penguins are still in contact with people from the program after volunteering, Neffendorf said.
The league plays eight weeks in the fall and spring, and this season has 150 players, ages 5-57, on 10 teams. Games are on Saturdays at 9 a.m., 10:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Sponsors and donations helped lower the cost of registration to $25.
Many players like Jason Turner, 28, and Joey Koupal, 29, have been with the league since it came to Vancouver. After he scored his first run of the game May 30, Koupal took off his helmet and blew a kiss to the crowd.
During each game, every player has the opportunity to hit the ball and score a run. Each team is named after Major League Baseball teams and the players get jerseys and hats. They also receive awards after the season.
The organization is hosting a “Dunk Day” fundraiser June 13, where players will dunk their coaches and, if the goal is reached, dunk Mills. They hope to raise $10,000 to build rubberized fields that won’t obstruct wheelchairs and walkers, along with a public park on land granted to them in Pacific Community Park.
“I always get asked, ‘What’s the most important thing you’ve done for the Miracle League?’ and I look at it as I haven’t done it yet,” Mills said.
All of the league employees are volunteers. According to Mills, seeing the players happy makes it all worth it.
“We’re behind the scenes doing the work but we just want to put a smile on the kids’ faces.”