Miracle League of DFW Celebrated Renovations at Randol Mill Park on Opening Day

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Bat in hand, 7-year-old Abby Harris approached home plate as fans cheered from the stands.

In one swift swing, Abby sent the baseball flying toward midfield. She dropped the bat, clutched the tires of her wheelchair and pushed herself to first base, as her father followed closely behind.

Abby has spina bifida, a type of neural tube defect that affects the spine, confining her to a wheelchair. Abby also plays for the Rangers, a team in the Arlington-based Miracle League of DFW, which gives children and adults with special needs the opportunity to play baseball.

“Every kid deserves to play ball,” said Abby’s father, Patrick Harris, of Arlington. “We never thought we would get to watch our daughter play baseball, and now she loves it.”

Opening Day on Saturday drew hundreds of players and their families to the newly renovated Doug Inman Miracle League Field at Randol Mill Park, where players took turns batting, catching and fielding. Some ran the bases, while others rode in wheelchairs across the custom rubberized surface of the Miracle Field.

Players range from age 2 to 40, and the league draws its nearly 400 participants from Arlington, as well as Fort Worth, Grand Prairie and nearby suburbs. This is the league’s 11th year in existence in Arlington.

To be eligible, players must have some sort of mental or physical impairment, which can include Autism Spectrum Disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or spina bifida, among others.

Amanda Cobb, whose 7-year-old identical twins John Raven and William play for the Royals, said joining the league gave her family a way to spend time together outdoors. Her twins have a rare form of muscular dystrophy and use wheelchairs to get around.

“I love the feeling of community out here. The support for families is amazing,” said Cobb, of Arlington, standing in the dugout. “We have the chance as a family to do something we would never normally be able to do.”

For many families, playing for the Miracle League is an outlet, said Executive Director Bri Sundberg Rishel. Participation is free for families, with uniforms, equipment and other costs paid for by donations.

As players cross home plate, they receive flurry of high fives from coaches, parents and league volunteers.

“A lot of our families’ everyday life is focused on special needs and challenges,” Rishel said. “But on game day, it’s not about those challenges. It’s about the kids playing baseball with their friends.”

That is why Arlington resident Kiara Jackson signed her 4-year-old son, Kaiden, up to play. Kaiden, who has spina bifida, sometimes felt isolated from other children, but playing baseball has helped change that, and on Saturday he made one of his best hits yet.

“He is able to see that he’s not the only one with a physical disability,” she said. “There are kids just like him out here, and that has been so good for us.”

Opening Day festivities on Saturday also included a ribbon cutting and dedication of the field, which recently got a $400,000 facelift. Voters in 2014 approved about $1 million in updates to Randol Mill Park, including new surfaces on the Miracle League fields, renovations of the basketball and tennis courts and parking lots and dredging of the pond.

The park improvements align with the Arlington City Council priority to Champion Great Neighborhoods in the American Dream City.

For Abby Harris and her family, the Miracle League has provided more than just a sporting activity. Abby said she loves to bat and looks forward to games all week.

On the Rangers, she is now No. 14, her father’s number when he played Little League.

“This is so wonderful,” Abby’s mother, Heather Harris said. “So many kids out here would never get a chance to play baseball. We’re grateful.”