There’s nothing as great as baseball. It can lift the heart of a city from the depths of the aftermath of racial riots as the World Series champion Detroit Tigers did in 1968 to making a child with a disability become an athlete by rolling across the foul line onto the field of green.
The Michigan Miracle League, founded by Steve Peck who also is director of the league, celebrated its 10th anniversary on Saturday (7.27).
It was in 2004 that Peck and his son came into The Oakland Press to talk to this columnist about the idea of building an accessible baseball field in the Southfield Municipal Center where children with disabilities could play baseball.
After receiving donations of some $250,000 from Wal-mart and Pepsi, the league began operating that summer with Peck, a broadcaster, doing the pitching.
In the decade since, hundreds of lives have changed and children who were just sideline observers became ballplayers.
Physically and mentally challenged children are paired with able-bodied volunteer “buddies” who assist them, if needed, in batting, catching, throwing and running.
Every child gets a turn at bat and in the outfield and the “point of the game is less about baseball and more about fun,” says Peck who asked this columnist to throw out the first pitch on the 10th anniversary. The writer also was the first batter in the first game a decade ago.
Benefits gained by playing at the field at 26000 Evergreen in Southfield are tremendous. The child’s self-esteem grows; they make friends, become less isolated, and just become a regular kid, not a kid with a disability.
The players come from all over southern Michigan, including Wayne, Macomb, Oakland, and other counties.
Vic Doucette, 56, of Southfield, who has cerebral palsy, is the official announcer of the games which are both competitive for those who are more able and noncompetitive for those who just want to play and be part of a team.
“I was so moved by what I saw, I wanted to become a part of it,” said Doucette, who went to see a game after a column was written about the new Miracle League. “I brought my checkbook with me. I tracked down Steve, but I told him when the money runs out, I just don’t want to just walk away.”
So Doucette became an announcer and since has collected 1,000 songs and different sound effects to make it feel like a major league park for the players.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done and without wanting to get all melodramatic on you, if I were to die tomorrow and that were to be my legacy, I’d be happy about it,” said Doucette.
As for the miracles, they happen every time a game is played. Noncompetitive games are Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and Sunday at Noon and 1:30 p.m. Competitive games are 7 p.m. Tuesdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays.
Doucette tells the story of a lad named Caleb and how playing baseball changed his body and mind.
When Caleb started he needed a wheelchair to get around and he would bat from his knees, Doucette said. Once he hit the ball, he’d struggle back up into the wheelchair and roll toward first. Eventually Caleb learned to use a walker, crutches, and canes and then walked independently as his body grew in strength from playing baseball.
“Now he plays in the competitive league wearing leg braces and getting around without and wheelchair, unaided except for the braces,” Doucette said.
And, there are dozens of stories about healing of both the heart and body from children with disabilities playing baseball on a team with a little help from their friends. Visit some Saturday to see a miracle unfold.
Jerry Wolffe is the Writer in Residence/Advocate at Large at Macomb-Oakland Regional Center. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.