Baseball attracts everyone, from children on sandlots to adults in pinstripes, who understand that every pitch, swing, stretch to the base or leap at the fence are equal opportunities for greatness or disaster. It’s a sport in which highs and lows play emotional “pickle in the middle” with players, coaches and fans alike. It’s a game that inspires passion and devotion in unique ways.
More than five years ago, during a delay at a Lakeville youth baseball tournament, Trey Cavello, Mike Espe, Logan McCarthy and other members of the Eden Prairie 12-Year-Olds Travel Baseball AAA Team watched as other children, with various abilities, played baseball on a Miracle Field. Several of the Eden Prairie players were so inspired by the scene that a question began to emerge—“They came back, and a couple said, ‘Geez, why don’t we have one of those in Eden Prairie?’” says dad John McCarthy, who was coaching the boys at the time.
Miracle Fields, operated by national- and state-run Miracle Leagues, are designated baseball fields for children and young adults, regardless of their mental or physical abilities. The rubberized-surface fields, dugouts and surrounding areas are accessible to wheelchairs and other walking assistance devices. Each player is given the chance to hit the ball and score a run. Players are assigned a buddy, who provide as little or as much assistance during the game as necessary.
After a few years, the boys’ dream to create a Miracle Field took form, and the boys and their parents sought city-wide support. “It really has been a fun city and community partnership,” McCarthy says. The boys and their families attended countless planning sessions and council meetings, helped raise funds by holding pancake breakfasts, organizing a Wiffle ball tournament and selling wristbands and buy-a-bricks. Along with them, city officials, businesses and nonprofit organizations teamed up to bring a Miracle Field to Eden Prairie. Final touches were complete over the spring to the field, located at Flying Cloud Fields, at Staring Lake Parkway East and Pioneer Trail.
Third Base: Eden Prairie Baseball Association
Steve Rutledge, EPBA president, says the organization turned over one of its baseball fields for the site and is assisting with registration. “It’s a fantastic program, and it’s an audience we weren’t serving,” he says. Rutledge says the community’s support of the project represents the spirit of the city. “I think it speaks very loudly about the type of community Eden Prairie is,” he says. “We’re all Eden Prairie Eagles.”
First Base: Eden Prairie Community Foundation
“The Eden Prairie Community Foundation has served as the fiscal sponsor of the project, which is one of our roles as a community foundation,” says executive director Mark Weber. “As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, we offer tax-deductibility to the project’s donors. We also provide the organizers a safe place to keep their funds and offer some basic administrative services, such as donor thank you’s. In its role as grant-maker, the Eden Prairie Community Foundation also awarded a small, $5,000 grant to the project.”
Second Base: City of Eden Prairie
Jay Lotthammer, director of Parks and Recreation, views the Miracle Field as more than a place for baseball. “It’s an opportunity to bring a lot of people together to work together and understand each other,” he says, noting the program is about building relationships and understanding. “The City Council and mayor value inclusiveness,” Lotthammer says.
For its part, the city assisted in working with the Minneapolis Airport Commission (MAC) to secure the land at Flying Cloud Field. The city leases the property from MAC, and an established baseball field was transformed into the Miracle Field. The city, according to Lotthammer, worked with the architectural firm in the design process, oversaw contractors and worked with the construction firm, RJM Construction. Moving forward, the city will maintain the Miracle Field.
Home Plate: Players & Coaches
After seeing the Miracle Field in Lakeville, the Eden Prairie baseball team kept asking the coaches about building an Eden Prairie Miracle Field, and their coaches, realizing the depth of the project, got to work. “It was really the kids who drove the project,” coach Dave Espe says. “They said we need to do this in Eden Prairie.” He later adds, “It’s neat to see these young men mature enough to get up and talk in front of the City Council and on TV.”
Dave’s son, Mike Espe, says the project was personal for him. “I thought it was a good cause,” Mike says. “My brother played adaptive sports in high school. It kind of hit home for me.”
When sites were considered for the field, Dave says it was a priority to keep the location close to other baseball fields. “We wanted to be part of Eden Prairie baseball,” he says.
Dave notes there are far more children and young adults with special needs in the area than assumed, and they often don’t have a chance to participate in team athletics. “I think it’s extraordinarily important for everyone to have that opportunity,” he says.
“It’s not a baseball thing,” coach Butch Cavello adds. “It’s absolutely a community thing. Makes you proud to be an Eagle.”
While he acknowledges the efforts of the entire community, Cavello is quick to give a nod to Dave Espe’s contributions. “To Dave’s credit, he really championed it from a parent perspective,” Cavello says of the Eden Prairie School Board member. “Dave did all the heavy lifting.”
For his part, “Participating in this has been one of the proudest moments as a father,” Cavello says. The Miracle Field presented a chance for parents to stand alongside their children as they all worked to help other kids.
High school graduation is less than a year away for those once-12-year-old boys, and they’ll naturally move on to new endeavors. But Cavello, as some of the other parents will undoubtedly do, plans to stay involved for the field’s first years to make sure it’s up and running before it’s time to make room for other community members to lead. “Every kid deserves to play ball,” Cavello says. “I clearly want to ensure this program is viable.”
The total cost of the project has been a moving target, coach John McCarthy explains. Construction costs bumped the project up to about $265,000. Community leaders and organizations have stepped up to help, he says, with donations, purchasing bricks and corporate sponsorship. “There’s been hundreds of individuals donors,” McCarthy says. “It’s been really well received.”
McCarthy says the parents of players also benefit from the program. “Most people like to play and watch baseball,” he says. “These parents haven’t been able to go to games and watch their own kids play.”
Join the Team
Volunteers are needed for Eden Prairie’s Miracle Field to serve as announcers, buddies, game clock operators and more. Individuals, organizations and businesses are invited to discover additional ways to participate and donate at epmiracle.com.
Since it began in 2000, the Miracle League has grown to more than 274 organizations in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and Australia, serving more than 200,000 children and young adults with disabilities. Additional information is available at miracleleague.com.
Chaska’s Miracle Field
The Rotary Club of Chaska is raising money for its own Miracle Field and accessible playground adjacent to the former Veterans Park in Chaska. The club hopes to start construction on the project by spring of 2017. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to donate to the project. Visit rotaryclubofchaska.org to learn about the Rotary Club of Chaska.
Registration is available at the website here.