The celebration Saturday morning at Orchard Park may have been for the opening of a new baseball diamond for adults and children with physical and mental disabilities, but it was just as much a celebration of Lainie Armstrong.
Her name was mentioned by several of the half a dozen speakers as part of opening-day ceremonies at Miracle Field, which the city said is the first of its kind in Kansas.
And each time Armstrong’s name was mentioned, there were booming cheers of, “Go Lainie!” among the crowd of several hundred adults and kids.
Miracle Field was the dream of Armstrong, the mother of 6-year-old Chance, who was born premature at 28 weeks and has developmental disabilities.
She was the one who founded the Miracle League of Wichita in 2009, one of 245 Miracle Leagues in the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and Australia.
And she was the one, speakers such as Jill Bosley said, who pushed for the construction of Miracle Field.
“I wanted (Chance) to be able to participate,” Armstrong said. “I wanted him to have the same opportunities regularly developed kids have.”
The Miracle League of Wichita began its first year of play in 2009 with four teams and 40 kids. Now, the league boasts eight teams – A’s, Astros, Cubs, Pirates, Rockies, Royals, Red Sox and Tigers – comprising 91 kids and 126 volunteers, most of whom serve as “angels in the outfield.” They are there to help each child hit the ball off a tee, field it and run the bases.
Armstrong said the league is open to children with disabilities ages 5 to 18. They don’t keep score in the league, teams play for one hour, and every child gets to hit in every inning.
The Miracle League of Wichita’s new diamond looks to be a third of the size of a traditional diamond. The baselines are shorter, as is the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate. The outfield fence is also moved in to increase home runs and the field is a rubberized surface, hard enough to provide a good roll for wheelchairs but soft enough to provide a slight bounce when it’s stepped on.
Miracle Field was paid for through $300,000 in Capital Improvement Project funds, which the City Council approved in 2009, and $66,054 from the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals at Via Christi.
“This is something our community needed for so long,” said Bosley, director of development for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals at Via Christi, in her speech.
Lafarge provided $5,000 in labor and other work to construct the diamond, said Doug Kupper, Wichita parks and recreation director.
City Council member Janet Miller, whose district includes Miracle Field, said in her speech that projects like this are a good example of public-private partnerships.
“We need supportive partners, and in Wichita those are abundant,” Miller said.