Their own Field of Dreams in Uniontown
The Miracle League of Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands is gearing up for the first pitch on its new home turf at Bailey Park in Uniontown.
On Sunday, the special-needs baseball team -- open to those ages 3-21 and consisting of more than 80 disabled people -- will finally take to a field to call their own.
The adaptive league, a nonprofit organization based in Smock, has partnered with the City of Uniontown. The league has signed a 3-year lease, making it the primary home team at Bailey Park.
Joshua Scully is game-day announcer and a league board member. He's one of the many volunteers from Fayette, Westmoreland, Greene, Somerset and Washington counties who have waited to achieve the goal for a long time.
"This was our wish, and it happened. The City of Uniontown made it happen," he said. "Since the weather has been good, they've been out there busy working. The city is really excited about what they've done with the redevelopment of this field -- and so are we."
Scully said a $25,000 Fayette County Tourism grant from the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau and the city's help in updating the small field at Bailey Park have made the goal a reality. Renovations were made to the playing surface, including leveling. The work also involved construction of bleachers and dugouts to accommodate wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment.
"I've been down there to see how work is going. Every day, they are doing something different," Scully said. "It's pretty amazing. We will soon begin to hang signage for our sponsors."
Lisa Ferris, CEO of Fayette County Behavioral Health Administration, said she remembers vividly her first invitation to participate in a league game as a sponsor. Ferris is the grant administrator and project manager for the Miracle League field development at Bailey Park.
"I was invited to throw the first pitch at one of the games, and I had no idea really what the league was about," she said. "I just had known our agency -- Fayette County Behavioral Health Administration -- sponsored a team for children with physical and emotional challenges. I went out that Sunday and threw the first pitch, and I've been hooked ever since.
"Back then, South Union Township allowed them to use one of the HARC fields. Regardless of how generous, it was not conducive structurally, and it was always a challenge of when we could play," she said. "So it has been a dream of those involved to have our own field -- and even a bigger dream to have a fully sanctioned Miracle League Field."
Ferris said Fayette County commissioners supported the Miracle League's need for community and financial support. And state Rep. Tim Mahoney became one of the biggest champions of the project.
"Through his efforts, a collaboration between the city Redevelopment Authority and Mayor Ed Fike, we were given the small field at Bailey Park to call home," Ferris said.
After overcoming the nonprofit's biggest challenge of finding a stable home, the organization now is focusing on the next goal of its field of dreams -- a rubberized, latex-free surface to provide cushioning from falls. The ideal surface won't collect moisture, and players won't need to be concerned about mud or rain interfering with their play. The bases also will be built into the surface so that players easily can walk or wheel over.
Board member Jessilyn Holp said she envisions a special rubberized playing field; she's involved with fundraising efforts. Her son Elijah is diagnosed with arthrogryposis, an illness that affects joints and muscles. He has played several seasons with the adaptive league and enjoys swinging a bat.
She said that securing a place to call home at Bailey Park is a great first start.
"I think it's very exciting that the kids have a place to play," she said. "The families involved will always know where we will be playing. Since it's in the city, hopefully we'll be able to reach more people as it will now be in walking distance for some people. We are very fortunate that the city chose to help us."
The community is invited to join in the celebration of Bailey Park's reopening with an official ribbon-cutting on Aug. 19. Festivities will include a parade, activities for participants and a baseball game to follow at 5 p.m. More details will be released in the coming weeks.