Some of the best baseball games of the spring will take place for the next eight Saturdays. The Charleston Miracle League, a baseball program for special needs children and adults, opens its ninth season at 9 a.m. at Joe Griffith Field, 780 W. Oak Forest Drive in West Ashley.
Children under age 18 play 9 a.m.-noon, then adults take over and play until 3 p.m. There are no fees and players or volunteers can sign up at charlestonmiracleleague.org. Summerville also has a Miracle League program that is an offshoot of the Charleston league.
The league’s mission statement is to create lasting memories for a lifetime, said Charleston Miracle League Executive Director Colin Meara, a special education teacher at West Ashley High School. In addition to a baseball league in the spring and summer, the Miracle League participants also travel to attend an Atlanta Braves game and to Baltimore to watch the Orioles and former Stratford star Matt Wieters. They also have outings to attend RiverDogs and Stingrays games and to bowl, Meara said.
“We have everything from individuals with autism to individuals with cerebal palsy, Down syndrome or maybe motor skills issues,” Meara said. “We have a specialized field where you can have wheelchairs. Anyone that has a disability that doesn’t feel comfortable in a regular baseball league can come out here and play.”
The two-inning games, which last about an hour, are very similar to youth T-ball. Every player bats, gets a hit and scores a run. Every player also goes into the field. Youths play with a special soft baseball and use aluminum bats; adults use plastic bats and balls. The league also has beeper balls for players with vision problems. Every player is assigned a buddy to assist them in hitting or getting around the bases.
The Charleston Miracle League was founded by Channing Proctor, a former Citadel baseball player who is a pharmaceutical sales representative. He had watched a Miracle League game while living in Atlanta, and when he and his family moved to Charleston, he began working to raise the money to build a program here.
Through a lot of hard work, the board of directors raised the necessary $250,000 to build the field. Joe Griffith, a local Realtor, donated $100,000; Proctor raffled off his 1965 Thunderbird and raised $25,000 and other businesses, and individuals came through. The first game was played Nov. 20, 2004.
Proctor said it was a way to reconnect with baseball. In one of life’s ironies, he said, three or four years after the league began, he and his wife, Shannon, had a son who is autistic, Nashton, now 5 and a Miracle League player.
The crowds that gather each Saturday are like a large support group, offering suggestions and guidance to others. Volunteers include high school students, college sororities and fraternities and medical students.
“It teaches young people the importance of volunteerism and giving back to the community at a young age,” Proctor said. “These players aren’t that different. If you see someone in a wheelchair, it doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent or can’t function. They have dreams and goals. They can laugh and have fun like everybody else. I think it’s broken down those barriers for volunteers.”
Joe Griffith Field is looking ahead to its fourth stage of development, which will include an outdoor Therapy Play Module, where the therapies that usually take place indoors are moved to a covered outdoor facility.