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Special-needs kids find a place to play in Western Pa. through Miracle League

| Sunday, July 6, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Daniel Lucas' mom showed him how to take a level swing in baseball as a boy. His dad taught him that playing catch isn't called, “Dad, go get it.”

But it wasn't until the inaugural Miracle League of Western PA in 2012 that Lucas, 33, of Plum could show his stuff on a real team.

Lucas, who has Down syndrome, and about 130 others with special needs in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties found a place to play baseball through the Miracle League. Fields such as Bill Mazeroski Miracle Field in Murrysville Community Park have a rubberized diamond so that wheelchairs and crutches don't slow the kids down one bit.

The players' accomplishments are visible on a giant scoreboard — and shine in their faces.

Everyone involved feels a sense of accomplishment.

“The most rewarding part is all of the respect that you get from all of the parents for actually reaching out to their kids and making an impact,” said Tori Shephard of Delmont, an assistant coach and buddy to the players.

“I love playing, I really do, but I like to help the little kids, too, because it is more about them than it is about anything else,” said Lucas, who volunteers when his games end.

Pam Azzara's son Preston, 8, came to the Miracle League after trying to play in his local T-ball association. Autism made that difficult.

“He has blossomed, and he loves being here with all of his friends, and they can all just be themselves,” said Azzara of Plum.

At 5, J.T. Esposito finally reached the age where he can play in the league. His vision issues, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and cerebral palsy aren't a barrier.

“He is a whole person here, and he fits in,” said his mother, Cathy Esposito of Murrysville.

Carey Mynahan-Jacko said the league was a welcome respite for her son, Matthew, diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in April 2012. He played despite being in hospice care.

“We wanted to keep as much of a normal childhood as we could for Matthew. I truly believe it helped,” said Mynahan-Jacko of Monroeville.

Matthew died on June 25, just days after receiving his end-of-season trophy.

Barry Reeger is a Trib Total Media photographer. Reach him at breeger@tribweb.com.

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