DreamCatcher Park

Years of planning, fundraising and construction ended on March 24 when the City of Surprise, Ariz., in conjunction with the Surprise Sundancers and Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals, officially opened DreamCatcher Park--a state-of-the-art, artificial turf sports field designed to allow all populations the opportunity to play baseball and their fans to watch in the shaded comfort of stadium-style seating.

Inspired by the Miracle League--a government-approved, non-profit organization with a mission to provide opportunities for all children to play baseball regardless of their ability or disability--the new park was (and is) a hit.

Play Ball!

“The facility is just spectacular,” says Steve Groves, Board President for the Miracle League of Arizona. “The kids are able to easily get around the bases. They are smiling and having fun. They are so excited to have the opportunity to play baseball three times a week. This facility really is the pearl of the system.”

Or, as Judy Dunn, mother of 16-year-old Samantha, says, “It is a park built for children with special needs, but it looks like any other field for any other kid. The turf is cushiony and there aren’t any holes. I feel just as proud watching Samantha as I would any other kid. We could not be more pleased.”

The park offers every baseball amenity, designed specifically with access in mind. Some accessible touches include: wheelchair-accessible stadium seating, dugouts, wider gate entrances to the field, restrooms, a concession stand and a customized playing surface designed for ease-of-use by players using walkers or wheelchairs.

Dunn said Samantha has taken new joy in the concession stand being open throughout the game. At the previous field, Samantha and the other players were unable to grab a snack or a drink during a game, but at DreamCatcher, she’s able to visit the concession stand.

“It may seem silly, but it’s important to her,” says Dunn. “They are treated like any other kid but at their own level.”

Even the fans’ needs were taken into account. The stadium-style seating is covered with custom-fitted shade structures (designed and manufactured by Sun Ports, www.sunports.com). According to the manufacturer, the shade structures are helpful in protecting fans and players from UV radiation, durable enough to withstand high winds and water, and cooling for spectators and players by allowing hot air to rise and release through the permeable fabric. The company claims this movement of air can reduce temperatures beneath the structures by as much as 30 percent.

As Paul Frie, Recreation Manager for the City of Surprise, says, “The shade structures were pretty important because a lot of the kids are heat sensitive. Now they are allowed to be out when they wouldn’t be if we didn’t have the shades.”

And, they’re colorful, which adds to the special look and feel of the park.

Bambino Buddy Ball

The Bambino Buddy Ball League has 40 players ranging in age from five to 21 years old. The game is simple. Each player is teamed with a buddy (anyone 10 years old and older) who helps with anything from swinging the bat to running the bases.

The current crop of volunteers includes high school baseball players, police officers and everyone in between.

The game itself resembles the real thing, as it should. Each game is two innings long. Each player plays defense for one inning, and then bats and scores in the next. A typical two-inning game takes about 45 minutes. Each team spends the remaining 15 minutes taking another swing of the bat and another jog around the bases. During this session, parents and volunteers play defense.

“It’s about as awesome as it could possibly be,” says Dunn. “Samantha loves playing in the league. The turnout has been fantastic, and we appreciate the fact that she’s able to be involved in sports.”

The success of the new park continues to grow, and new leagues continue to form. Kids with disabilities can now play in a T-ball or coach-pitch division, participate in a Special Olympics soccer game, or even try their hand at track and field events.

“I’ve coached every level of baseball, and I almost feel kind of guilty about how much enjoyment I get out of this league,” says Frie. “We play three nights a week, and I would do it every night of the week if I could. You see these kids who are barely responsive, and then they get a bat in their hands and they smile and giggle and are just so happy. I just can’t even explain it.”

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at hreichle28@yahoo.com.

For more information on the Miracle League or to see if it is available in your area, visit www.miracleleague.com.