by Cori Hilsgen
The annual Miracle League of Central Minnesota bowling event will take place from noon-3 p.m. Sunday, April 23 at Great River Bowl in Sartell.
The event is a kick-off event for the league’s baseball season so players can register for the upcoming season.
Kim Notsch, a member of the Miracle League Board and parent of a player, said The Miracle League is unique in many aspects of the game. Here are a few:
- The game is played on a specialized baseball field designed without the barriers of a traditional baseball field. The entire field is made of a rubber material to cushion falls and prevent injuries. The field is completely flat, allowing for walkers, wheelchairs and those with mobility challenges to participate in the game. Entrances and exits, as well as the dugouts, are wide enough to accommodate walker and wheelchair access.
- A Miracle League baseball game is played with the assistance of a “buddy.” Each player has a volunteer buddy, either one the player chooses themselves or one the league provides on a weekly basis. (The league seeks volunteers from various groups around the area.) The buddies are asked to support the player while he/she is playing the game, as much or as little as the player needs it. Some buddies help the players bat and push them around the bases while other buddies simply stand back during the at-bat and run with the players around the bases, offering words of encouragement, and help build excitement as the players round the bases. Buddies also help players in the outfield by stopping ground balls, picking balls up for players who may not be able to get the ball off the ground and more. The buddies also help ensure the safety of the players throughout the game. They stand with the players during the National Anthem, which is played at the beginning of the game, stand with the players when the lineup is called, and when the players shake hands at the end of each game. Buddies also help coach the teams, serve as pitchers, catchers, umpires and announcers.
- Every player on the team bats each inning, base runners are safe, every player scores each inning and each player and team wins every game. There are usually three innings to each game, lasting about one hour. If three innings are completed and there is still time remaining, there may be a fourth inning added to the game.
There are about 100 players each season. Notsch said each year the league recruits a few more players and would love to see even more.
She said many families and organizations are still not aware a league such as the Miracle League exists and it’s her desire to help bring awareness to this league and the positive impact it can have on youth in the area.
Recommended ages of league players range from 5–21 but there are a few players with the league who are younger, if parents feel the child is appropriate to play, and a few players are older, particularly those who have been playing from the beginning and were in the recommended age range during league start-up. The league is for both males and females.
“My son will be starting his eighth season of buddy baseball,” Notsch said. “As soon as he sees the Minnesota Twins start their season, he knows his baseball league is right around the corner. From the end of March when we start talking baseball and until the day it arrives, and again as the end of summer draws near and we prepare for school, he asks every day if his Miracle League Draft letter has come in the mail. Seeing the sheer joy on his face when he sees what team he was drafted to each season are the days we live for. This league has done so much for his confidence and has really taught him how to be a good team player and a respectful spectator at a sporting event. We are so grateful to have found such a wonderful thing in our community for our kiddo. He has told me he always feels welcomed and cheered on as he plays and that makes him ‘feel great and like the best baseball player.'”
Some comments from others about their experiences with the league include the following:
“I love to watch and help with the games and with ear-to-ear grins,” said Angela Miller, Waite Park, volunteer buddy and league supporter. “It’s clear the athletes love it too.”
“It’s great to see all the interaction between coaches, buddies, the players and the spectators,” said Cathy Pundsack, Avon, league supporter. “It’s also great to see high-school students in the area helping out.”
“The Miracle League has provided my daughter with a great way to be involved in a sporting event that is fun for her and something she enjoys very much each and every game,” said Shawn Kockler, Sauk Rapids, volunteer coach and parent of a player.
“It is the highlight of my week,” said Susan Sipe, Big Lake, league supporter. “It is a special place where all participants are included and celebrated. At no other sporting event will you find people cheering just as enthusiastically for the other team as they do for their own.”
Notsch said Buddies are an essential and very appreciated part of this game. Each season, the volunteer Buddies include many companies, work groups or organizations such as baseball/softball and football teams from various high schools in the area, Sauk Rapids Fire Department volunteers, Coborn’s staff and St. Cloud SWAT Team and Drug Task Force members. The league welcomes more volunteers every season.
“I really encourage the community to come out for a game and cheer these kids on,” Notsch said. “It’s such a heartwarming experience, and I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t been so appreciative for this opportunity these kids have with this league.”
Games are played at the Miracle Field located at Whitney Park in St. Cloud.
Spring games are played at 4:45 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sundays, May 14–June 25, and at 5:30 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. Tuesdays, May 16–June 20.
A fall league starts in late August and runs through September.
Notsch said the league is mostly self-funded. The organization is a 503(c)(3) and welcomes any donations to help with league costs. Donations are tax-deductible.
Players and parents usually host a hot-dog fundraiser in early June, and several Lions clubs in the area also make donations to help keep the program going.
This year the league has also been fortunate to be named the beneficiary of the Brenny Transportation/DeZurik 5k Fun Run/Walk that will be held on April 29.
Players pay $50 per season to play one night or $80 to play both nights in a season. That money pays for jerseys, year-end trophies and field upkeep and city utilities.
“Our wish is to some day be able to lower the cost of participation with the support of community donations,” Notsch said.
If anyone wants to donate for a player, donations can be mailed to Miracle League of Central Minnesota, P.O. Box 1935, St. Cloud, Minn. 56302.
Families who wish to participate in the bowling event are asked to sign up for a designated time, prior to the event. To participate in the event, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the league, visit the website at miracleleaguecentralmn.com.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.