On December 5, baseball great Cal Ripken, Jr. and the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation announced a partnership with Springfield College to jointly design and build a one-of-a-kind intercollegiate and adaptive baseball park on the Springfield College campus. The adaptive baseball park will include a custom-designed field with a cushioned, rubberized surface that makes it accessible for special needs players to get from base to base. This project will include collaborations with local organizations, including the Miracle League of Western Massachusetts.
“We are obviously very excited about this great opportunity and the impact it will have on the local community,” said Miracle League of Western Massachusetts co-founder Ernie Fitzell. “This facility will help the Miracle League and its continued growth, and we are very thankful to both Springfield College and the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation for this partnership.”
The Miracle League of Western Massachusetts was born when Ernie, along with his wife Tammy, set a goal of providing a safe opportunity for all individuals to play the great sport of baseball.
“My wife is a school teacher in Holyoke working with kids with autism, and I was volunteering time with Holyoke Youth Baseball. We would listen to parents express how they tried to sign their child up for baseball, but there wasn’t an option for individuals with a disability to play in the youth baseball league,” said Ernie. “So, we did some research, we found the Miracle League, and brought the league to Western Massachusetts.”
The Miracle League of Western Massachusetts hosted approximately 25 kids last year with the spring portion of the season beginning in early April and continuing through June. The league also offers a fall schedule starting in early September and continuing through the month of October.
“It really is a miracle to come down and watch these kids play,” said Ernie. “We try and make sure each player has a buddy, it’s truly a non-competitive league, we just want to help the kids play the game. Sometimes we play three innings, sometimes we play more, it really is up to the kids to see how long they want to play that day.”
With the new adaptive field set for ground breaking on April 24, 2017, with completion anticipated for September 1, 2017, the opportunity for all individuals to play will be that much more convenient.
“We expect the participation numbers in the Miracle League to grow with this field,” said Ernie. “It’s a win-win for the College, the league, and community.”
Miracle League baseball began in Conyers, Georgia in 1998 when the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association invited children with unique abilities to play on a typical baseball field. That first season, on a grass and dirt field, 140 players came out to play baseball. The Miracle League has been growing ever since.
The Miracle League believes that every child deserves a chance to play baseball. There are currently more than 240 Miracle League organizations in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada serving more than 200,000 children and adults with unique abilities.