By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Six-year-old Colin Lang could hardly wait to get onto the field to pitch, hit and run the bases.
It was his first time playing baseball, but he performed like a pro, even predicting how his season will end.
“I’m a winner,” Colin declared through a toothless grin. “I’m going to win a big trophy and a golden glove.”
After years of watching from the sidelines as brothers and sisters have played baseball and soccer, youngsters like Colin with disabilities will have their chance now to spend spring Saturday mornings on the field with the start of the Miracle League of Joplin.
The new Will Norton Miracle Field, built by the Rotary Clubs of Joplin, will be officially dedicated Friday, and league play will start Saturday. The field’s dedication and opening ceremonies are scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday. The field is located in the Joplin Athletic Complex, 3301 W. First St.
Cameo Harrington, public relations chairwoman for the league, said that because rain and thunderstorms are forecast for Friday, the board will announce a decision at noon on whether the celebration will be held as scheduled or postponed until Saturday. League play will start at 9 a.m. Saturday, and the dedication event would then be held at noon, she said.
The Miracle Field is a project proposed by Jenny Hocker, a real estate agent and Rotary member, and funded by donations the clubs received in response to the 2011 Joplin tornado. It is named after a Joplin High School student who died in the tornado. He was known for his volunteerism and work with children and the Rotary Club. His father, Mark Norton, who is a Rotary member, will speak along with Hocker at the dedication.
After the dedication and ribbon-cutting, the teams and coaches in the league will take the field for photographs and introductions. The children signed up for the league will each get a turn at bat.
The league’s mascot, Homer, will be introduced and will be available for photos with children. Other activities, such as face painting, will be offered, and a barbecue dinner will be served by Rib Crib.
“There is so much heart and soul that has gone into building the field, we can’t wait to get the kids out there to play ball,” Harrington said.
Eight-year-old Landon Cole, who like Colin is a student at Cecil Floyd Elementary School, has been practicing his hitting and can sock a ball to the far edge of right field.
“It’s his first time playing baseball, so he’s been counting down the days on the calendar,” said his mother, Heather Cole. “He’s been playing in the backyard. It’s a big deal to be with other kids his age.”
She said “it’s amazing” seeing her son play. “To see him so energized with other kids is wonderful. He’s so happy.”
Tatum Ashford, 6, a student at McKinley Elementary School, is shy about talking to strangers, but she did not shy away from getting her hits in when she and her mother and grandmother visited the field.
Tatum has seen her sister play soccer, and she liked to get on the field when she could. She now will have a sport of her own that she can play using her walker. “This is all new for us, but we like to play the game,” said her mother, Amber Ashford.
“It’s awesome,” said Colin’s mother, Lisa Lang. “You see these in the bigger communities. We need more of these types of things.”
“We’re just glad there’s something he can play and get those team-oriented skills,” said his father, Chuck Lang.
There is a playground next to the field equipped for children with disabilities, of which Colin was well aware as he described what he likes about the new ballpark: “Yeah, and the stadium and the lights and the base and the playground. It’s a stadium to play baseball. It’s fun.”
GAMES WILL BE PLAYED at 9 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. on Saturdays.