Let’s Play Ball: Alexandria’s Miracle League 12th Season is Underway
By Evan Kelmar
Alexandria, VA – A baseball soars into midfield, as the batter takes off to the cheers of the bench and the crowd. It’s a home run. It is the first hit on the opening day of the Miracle League of Alexandria (MLA) and spirits are high. It may not be the big leagues, but the Miracle Field can hold as much fun as any MLB stadium.
The Miracle League of Alexandria (MLA) is a unique baseball organization that provides a space for Alexandria’s special needs community to play and socialize. Both youth and adults, regardless of mental or physical disability, are welcome to participate in some classic, baseball fun.
The format is simple: able-bodied volunteers, known as “Angels in the Outfield” pair with the players, helping them catch and throw the ball. Those up at the plate can be bat-assisted or alone, depending on their ability and preference, and all are guaranteed a chance to round the bases. The rules seem to be even simpler: have fun.
And on that April Saturday that rule was certainly followed to the letter. There is no crying in baseball here. Instead, the players watch with smiles from the bench, eager to take their turn to swing for the fences. Bill Rivers, today’s announcer and one of the founders of MLA, booms compliments to each player by name, as they round the bases. A line of high-fives waits to greet the runners at home plate. The two-inning game is concluded, as all things should be, with a dance party on the field.
The MLA has two leagues, one for youth and one for adults, on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons respectively. This year, the MLA is expanding its hours of operation to work with Alexandria City Public Schools. Exhibition games are now being integrated into the learning program of local schools, with field trips taking special education classes, grades 4-12, to play on the field during the day.
Miracle Turf and Volunteers for a Miracle League
Key ingredients make the league a success. The first is the field itself. The Kelley Care’s Miracle Field is built from a specialized synthetic turf that is tough enough to support wheelchairs and walkers but soft enough to ensure players remain safe in case of falls or accidents. The field is a baseball diamond but can be used to host a variety of outdoor activities in a safe and accommodating environment. A playground, also grounded in the same material, sits nearby.
The second crucial ingredient to the Miracle League is the host of volunteers who enable and enhance the experience at every level. Mac Slover, the modest founder in purple shoes, pitches on this sunny day. It is a suitable, if not an ironic role, for the man who initially pitched the idea of having a Miracle League to the local community. Mac paired with a fellow former city worker, Bill Rivers, to help organize a community effort that in conjunction with the town raised $600,000 to construct the field in 2010.
The volunteers for the program come from all over. City workers from Alexandria’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities have provided steady support to the league. On this Saturday, the “Angels in the Outfield” were comprised of National Honors Society students from Alexandria City High School. The Psi Nu Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity ran the post-game cookout. Many unaffiliated individuals support the MLA as well. Seeing so many members of the community come together, “gives you great hope for the future of America,” says Bill Rivers.
The third, and most important ingredient, is of course the players themselves. For them, it’s a chance to socialize, get outdoors and learn and play in an environment that is usually inaccessible to them. One player’s father, Damnika, says that his son Akila, “Waits every year for this day.” It is no wonder why. As we are speaking, his son hits a line drive to center and begins to drive around the bases on a field built for him. How can you not be romantic about baseball?
The growth the players can experience thanks to the league is tremendous. DaMon Smith, a volunteer who has spent 27 years with the city, has seen some incredible things in his time at the program. He recalls one player who started out completely dependent on the volunteers only to hit an out-of-the-park home run, unassisted, just a few seasons later.
One player who was honored on opening day was Tucker Riley. He was awarded the 2022 Dennis Callahan “Good Sports Award” in recognition of his dedication and contributions to youth athletics. The smile on his face says it all. Exhausting doctors’ visits and medical appointments seem far way away inside this diamond, with big blue skies, and the occasional fly ball, overhead.
The MLA is always looking for new members, both players and volunteers. Those interested are encouraged to sign up on the Miracle League website at www.miracleleagueofalexandria.com.
A special end-of-season event, the “Night of Miracles” will take place at the G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, the former home field of the Potomac Nationals, on June 3rd. The game will include players both from the Miracle League of Alexandria and the recently established Miracle League of Prince William County. All are welcome.
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