Their field of dreams

Throw it!
Everyone on the Miracle League field yells the same thing to the player with the ball. "Throw it!"
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

It's hard to count just how many miracles there are on this field. For Ron Griebel the miracle is the field itself.

Griebel heard about the special field about a year-and-a-half ago.

There are Miracle Leagues in Rochester and the Twin Cities. Griebel wanted one in Sioux Falls.

A score
Players or their playing partners touch home plate when they score a run.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

The field is made from a special rubber surface with a painted baseball diamond. Griebel raised $400,000 through private donations and got the city to donate land.

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"When we approached the city of Sioux Falls, we said we didn't want to be tucked away in some corner," Griebel said. "We wanted to be where other ball fields were, because we want them to play when other kids were playing, so they feel like they're part of the whole group and not shoved away somewhere."

The Miracle League field is part of a youth baseball complex just down the street from the local minor league stadium.

Griebel says he wanted the field so his 17-year-old daughter Sammi could experience the joy of baseball.

Sammi has cerebral palsy and Griebel's eyes glisten with love as he talks about his daughter.

Ron Griebel
Ron Griebel created the Dream League so his 17-year-old daughter could play ball.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

"She loves to be outside and to play," he said. "She was patient and she'd always go to her sister's ball games. Now they get to come and watch her play."

Griebel says playing baseball makes his daughter happy and that makes him happy. The feeling is contagious.

On the field, nine players in team t-shirts are in position. Each player has a ball buddy, a volunteer who helps make plays.

Sometimes that means handing them the ball to throw or showing them where to throw it. The buddies also assist with batting and moving the players in a wheelchairs to their base.

On the field, each players is unique. One claps her hands for every play. Another gets the ball and stands, frozen, as everyone yells together, "throw it!"

Umpire Lyle Smith also serves as pitcher and all-around cheerleader. He calls each child by name. Smith is the executive director of the Sioux Empire Baseball Association.

Scottie bats
Players in the Dream League and their parents all benefit from the field time.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

"I think it's a great opportunity just to get involved with something, to interact with other children, to be in a situation to enjoy participating in a degree of physical activity," he said. "They play a game, but that is a very loose term."

The rules are simple. Everyone gets a hit. Everyone gets on base and everyone scores. There are no strikes or outs or errors. For Lyle Smith, the act of playing is the miracle.

"I have been involved with baseball all my life," he said. "I have always worked with the upper level kids college kids who had a shot at the majors. These are the bravest people I have ever seen."

Parents in the stands cheer for every play and every player. For them it's a miracle to be there.

They don't even know the team names - someone says they're all named after a major league team, but it doesn't really matter. Randy and Julie Briggs watch their son Scotty. He has Down syndrome.

Parents in the stands
The creator of the Dream League, Ron Griebel, says often the real magic happens for the parents.
MPR Photo/Cara Hetland

"Sometimes you feel a little short changed or left out. This makes you feel good," Julie Briggs said.

"It fills that gap you have of never being able to go to a game and watch our son play ball," said Randy Briggs.

It also means that Julie Briggs can play a role she never thought she could.

"We live by a big ball complex and you can hear all the cheers, and it's like, 'Oh man, we never get to do that.' And now we do," Briggs said. "I told my friend now I'm a baseball mom."

Some people at the field just come to watch baseball. They cheer or just observe in quiet amazement.

Lyle Smith says the miracles will continue as the league grows, more kids with disabilities sign up and more volunteers act as ball buddies.

"I just think people enjoy being around there and trying to make someone else's life a little more bearable in an hour of fun," Smith said.

At the end of the game, on this field, every player is a winner. Umpire Lyle Smith says it goes further than that, because these teams share their miracle with anyone who's got a warm summer evening to watch a ball game.