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Miracle League of Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands' Field of Dreams opens for season

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Running to home base to score a run are Haley Hettenschuller, 9, and her mother, Ashley Hettenschuller of Uniontown.
MARILYN FORBES I FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Running to home base to score a run are Haley Hettenschuller, 9, and her mother, Ashley Hettenschuller of Uniontown.
Eli Holp, 5, of Markleysburg concentrates on getting a hit as he bats for his team.
MARILYN FORBES I FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Eli Holp, 5, of Markleysburg concentrates on getting a hit as he bats for his team.
Making their way to first base after getting a hit are Luke Domonkos, 7, with his father, Steve Domonkos of Perryopolis.
MARILYN FORBES I FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Making their way to first base after getting a hit are Luke Domonkos, 7, with his father, Steve Domonkos of Perryopolis.

A miracle can be defined as an action that is unexpected or extraordinary — and both may apply to the opportunity available to children with special needs in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Something as simple as picking up a bat and running the bases is a feat that many people take for granted, but for children with disabilities, it was only a dream until last year's opening of their special field, made possible by the Miracle League of Pennsylvania Laurel Highlands.

“The Miracle League of Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands is the only youth baseball league in the region that provides the opportunity to play baseball to children with special needs — no other league in this area provides this specific service,” said leagure board member Josh Scully, adding that the program is geared to youths of all ages.

“Our players are children and young people between the ages of 3 and 21 with special needs.”

The season kicked off Sunday at Bailey Field in Uniontown, a field that is used by the league for its games.

“This is a wonderful day,” league president Mike Holp said of the sunny afternoon that opened the season. “Just look at these kids. It's really exciting.”

The goal of MLPLH is to raise enough funds to install a special soft-rubber surface on the entire field, which will make playing America's favorite pastime even more enjoyable and safer for the youths.

Once the covering is installed, the field will be one step closer to qualifying as an actual Miracle Field.

“As we have for nearly the last two years, we remain focused on having an official Miracle League Field in Uniontown, which will be the first of its kind in Greene, Fayette, Westmoreland or Somerset counties,” Scully said. “It's those counties we see our players and volunteers come from, and we're excited that an official Miracle League Field, meeting all the requirements set out by the Miracle League, will hopefully be among the treasures to be found in Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands.”

This year, the group is thrilled to have even more youths sign up to play and be a part of the magic.

“This season we currently have 56 players registered to play,” said Jessilyn Holp, president of the MLPLH board of directors.

“This is up from last year's 45 players. We also have over 70 volunteers registered to assist where needed. Each player has what we call a ‘buddy' who assists them throughout the game, if needed, guiding them in hitting the ball, directing them around the bases, and celebrating each run with them.”

Moving forward, the group is focusing on other projects for the field to make it even more comfortable for the players and their families.

“The League's current project is in coordination with the city — constructing a new concession stand and press box with a ‘quiet room' for players who need some time away from the crowd,” Scully said.

“The concession stands and press box will serve both fields, our field and the UHS varsity baseball field, stand two stories tall, and straddle the main pathway through the park.”

The season will continue starting at 3 p.m. Sundays through June 23, when it will break for the hot summer weeks, restarting in the early fall.

The public is invited to come and share the wonder, the smiles and sheer happiness shown by these children and their families.

“Everyone needs to come out and watch a MLPLH game,” Jessilyn Holp said. “The joy on the kids' faces is priceless.”

Marilyn Forbes is a freelance writer.

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