Tuesday, April 28, 2009 • By Paul Valencia of The Columbian
The Heritage Timberwolves participated in four baseball games a couple of Saturdays ago. One counted as a varsity game, a pretty important one for any team chasing down a league championship. The other three games, though, meant even more. “It’s kind of life-changing,” senior Bryan Turner said.
Members of Heritage’s baseball and softball teams became buddies for a trio of games at the Columbia River Miracle League, an organization that provides opportunities for those with special needs to play baseball regardless of ability.
“To see the kids, the reaction on their faces, they just lit up,” Turner added. “It was one of those moments you want to hold on to for the rest of your life.”
The varsity athletes were each paired with a miracle athlete to help run the bases, or take a swing, or just get in the way of a hard-hit ball. Call them the Secret Service of the miracle leaguers. “It was a great experience. I plan on doing it again,” said junior Lindsey McFarland of Heritage’s softball team. “My kids were so sweet.”
With varying degrees of abilities, some athletes need more help than others.
“They know when they want help. They know how to ask,” said senior Caitlin Wagner, who helped out last year, as well.
“You try to let them play as much as you can and give them some assistance when needed,” explained junior baseball player Alex Foulon.
Heritage certainly is not the only school that has helped. The league’s Web site graciously acknowledges Union’s football team, Mountain View’s volleyball team, and George Fox University’s baseball team.
There have been more, as well. Groups from Skyview, Washougal and La Center also have volunteered. This weekend, members of the University of Portland baseball team are expected to help.
“What takes place out there is magical,” said Art Liss, the president of CRML.
And the magic is a two-way street.
The volunteers get paid in smiles as well as other intangibles. After all, while the able-bodied athletes are helping the miracle leaguers play the game, it is the miracle leaguers who provide a bigger boost to the able-bodied athletes.
“I had a player say, ‘If I ever get ticked off for going 0 for 4, kick me in the butt, please,’ ” Heritage baseball coach Don Freeman said. “There are more important things. When young20kids recognize that fact, it’s awesome.”
Freeman got involved with Miracle League while working for USA Baseball in North Carolina. When he heard a Miracle League had opened in Vancouver, he immediately offered his assistance.
The Heritage help began last year with the buddy system.
This year, the Heritage baseball team hosted the league’s opening ceremony and put on a clinic for the miracle leaguers.
“It’s really important for kids who physically have everything to see these kids,” Freeman said. “The (miracle leaguers) really love what they’re doing, and they love playing.”
Senior Nick Coale said that perhaps he and his teammates, and all the other varsity baseball players everywhere, take for granted the fact that they can play, without limitations, every day.
One weekend with the Miracle Leaguers changed that thought process in a hurry.
And after helping the Miracle Leaguers for three games, the Heritage baseball team hustled to its own game. The Timberwolves, thinking of their new friends, won that day.
“That was all the motivation we needed,” Coale said.
Even before the varsity game, though, they were already winners that day.
Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at email@example.com.