LOCAL COLOR/A field of their own
Baseball. The sounds and smells of it can take many back to childhood instantly — the cheering, the sound of bats cracking, the smell of well-worn leather gloves. Add to that list the occasional screeching tire noise and you have the memories being created this summer at a baseball field in Roselle, Ill. It is no ordinary ball field, though — it’s a Miracle League field for physically disabled kids, and it is winning fans statewide.
The idea for the field started at a local Rotary Club meeting in March 2003. Roselle Public Works Director Rob Burns, who was the Rotary president at the time, was there to hear a presentation from the national Miracle League office, which builds baseball fields with rubberized surfaces that let physically disabled kids play. The two presenters wanted the Rotarians’ help with building a field in an adjacent town. At the time, Burns was in charge of a stormwater detention project for the local Park District that involved rebuilding two baseball fields. It occurred to Burns that Roselle could host the proposed Miracle League field, and a portion of the field’s construction cost would already be covered by his own project.
Three days later he met with 22 community leaders, and they decided to build the field in Roselle. However, in addition to managing the stormwater detention project, the Miracle League field and the other ball field, Burns had to build two more baseball fields at another site to have enough facilities for Little Leaguers. “It was really a bit more than I was willing to stomach,” Burns says. “But you run with it when it seems to be going.”
With Burns in charge, fund raising began immediately. The town rallied behind the project and the enormous challenge to make up the difference in cost of building a regular Little League field and one equipped for disabled kids. Within five weeks, pledge commitments exceeded $100,000, which was one third of what was needed to build the field. The city government also agreed to match each dollar in donations, up to $100,000. When donations became a bit more sporadic, Burns received his saving grace: a $150,000 donation from the Chicago White Sox.
Despite the large donations, the Public Works Department did not have enough money for field lighting. Still, Burns wanted to deter vandalism, so he asked Frank Kehoe, an electrical contractor and personal friend, to visit the field to scope out lighting possibilities. While there, Kehoe made an incredible offer — to install and pay for a complete field lighting system, at a cost of about $65,000.
Construction was completed this spring on the field, and the first game was held June 26. Four teams use the field, but Burns expects that number to increase as people from as far away as Peoria, Ill. — a 2.5-hour drive — begin to develop teams. The Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, which assists a handful of local Park Districts with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, manages the field’s use and schedule.
Traditional baseball fields are too uneven for kids in wheelchairs to play on, so Roselle’s field is going to be a hot commodity for disabled kids in the area. The surface of the field is made from the same material as Olympic tracks, allowing wheelchairs to roll smoothly across the “dirt” and “grass.” In addition, the baselines are 50 feet long instead of the usual 60 feet. For games, each child has a “buddy” to assist with batting and mobility, and each player gets to bat once per inning. And the best part? The game is always a tie. There are no winners and no losers — just happy kids getting to play America’s favorite pastime.