Twice foes in the World Series in 1971 and 1979, the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations are sharing their name on a field of miracles in Sarasota.
Several players and coaches and front office executives from the teams cut the ribbon Saturday on the Orioles Pirates Miracle League Field of Manasota in Longwood Park, just south of University Parkway on 6050 Longwood Run Blvd.
“What began four years ago as a dream is now a reality,” Miracle League of Manasota President Bob Mitchell said. “The Miracle League Field of Manasota is now ready for play. Players with special needs can enjoy playing baseball on a unique surface specially built for them. Our goal is to create an environment where self-esteem can flourish and with everyone’s help, we are meeting that goal.”
Miracle League was founded in 1997 in Atlanta and designs specially made fields for special needs children and adults so they can play ball. This is the first field of its kind in the Manatee-Sarasota area.
The Pirates and Orioles kicked in a total of $150,000 toward the field made with its rubberized, warning track-type material in both the infield and outfield.
"I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this facility," Orioles owners' representative Louis Angelos said. "This is a testament to Bob's dedication, this entire organization — the entire Miracle League."
"… We all treasure the game. We all know what the game can do, but this really is the highest, best expression of what the game does. The game brings people together, it brings communities together and it has the ability to inspire entire communities," Angelos added.
"This should be the top story on SportsCenter," he said. "This is what baseball is about."
During the press conference as officials spoke, Ali Randall of Bradenton had a huge smile on his face and walked over to Parrot, a Pirates mascot, and gave him hugs and high fives. Dressed in his Pirates hat, Ali had a smile on his face all afternoon running the bases and getting a chance to play catch with the pros.
His mother Kenyatta Randall was just as happy, even saying she had tears watching her son gain some independence and freedom during his first ever baseball experience. He's now registered to play some tee ball.
"My child has cerebral palsy — the mildest form — but it is still giving him an opportunity to feel like he's special and he's normal," she said.
The planning for the Miracle League field began four years ago at a small meeting inside a Lakewood Ranch Holiday Day Inn where Mitchell, happened to be talking loud enough for Larry Silverman, senior vice president and general counsel of the Pittsburgh Pirates, could hear him in a nearby dining area. Silverman walked over and introduced himself and how involved the Pirates are with Miracle League.
The Pirates had built a Miracle League field in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh, in addition to fields in other western Pennsylvania and West Virginia towns.
Bob Nutting, chairman of the Pirates and Pirates Charities, told Patch that witnesses the affect these fields had on families and kids in Pennylvania and West Virginia help solidify why a Miracle League field should be located near the team's spring home.
"Just to be able to fit in, to be able to participate as other kids are and seeing these huge smiles on these kids' faces who go through so much throughout the course of the year," Nutting said. "The other side is the impact of the families to be able to give mom and dad, sister, or aunt or caregiver a bit of a break and a bit of a chance to be able to share that joy and I think you saw it here with the parents with the tears of appreciation and the smiles."
In addition to the teams and Sarasota County funding the $770,000 field, numerous and people organizations contributed to the field, including ESPN's Dick Vitale of Lakewood Ranch and Gary Thorne, who also is the Orioles' broadcaster on MASN in Maryland, Mitchell said.
"The project is a success story on many levels," Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said. "It's success for the parents and grandparents of these special kids. Every parent and grandparent wants their child and grandchild to have fun, realize their dreams and be safe. And that's exactly what this facility is designed for."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter is amazed at the Miracle League fields, he told MLB.com:
"You ever been to one of those fields? Unbelievable," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who was headed to the ceremony along with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette. "[It makes] your problems seem pretty meaningless. They get a big thrill out of it, it's completely patterned towards handicaps they have. I'm looking forward to it."
Showalter along with O's Jim Johnson, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and retired O's Mike Bordick and Chris Hoiles joined the kids and Pirates' Pedro Alvarez and Joel Hanrahan and IMG Academies baseball players helped with a mini-clinic for special needs kids in attendance following the ceremony.
More work is being done to the field, Mitchell said, including a concessions and restroom area, shading for the dugouts, a memory garden and lighting and has committed to spend at least $250,000 by 2017 in these and other improvements.
For more information about the Miracle League, visit www.miracleleaguemanasota.org. The season begins March 17.