Thursday, May 01, 2003
Chicago opens wheelchair softball field
Cubs great Ernie Banks poses with some eager ballplayers.
Chicago has a new field of dreams. The state’s first wheelchair softball field opens in May, just in time for the start of the season, at McFetridge Sports Center/California Park, 3843 N. California Ave. This is the first field of its kind in Illinois, and only the second wheelchair accessible playing surface in the Midwest.
“It’s great to finally have something to call our own,” says Jorge Alfaro, a player who has played with the Rehab Institute team for five years. “You’re already going through an obstacle with a disability. You don’t want to have to face other obstacles when you get to the field.”
Alfaro plays on the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Cubs (RIC Cubs) adult wheelchair softball team, winners of the 2002 National Wheelchair Softball tournament and 2002 Wheelchair World Series.
The $300,000 state-of-the-art green asphalt field will be home to the Chicago Park District/Cubs Care Buddy Baseball program, a league for both disabled and nondisabled children to play baseball in an inclusive setting. It has an electronic scoreboard, homerun fence and a small hill behind the fence for families to watch. Dugouts and the backstop are wheelchair accessible.
The funding for the field came from the Chicago Park District; Cubs Care, a fund of the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation; and the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, a fund of the Major League Players Association as well as the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, the Chicago Cubs and the Rehab Institute. Previously, the 125 school-aged players and more than 30 Cubs members played in the parking lots across the city.
“It’s a huge confidence boost to our athletes to have the Cubs and other organizations believe in what they do and provide the best opportunity to play and succeed,” says Tom Richey, RIC Cubs coordinator, who brought the idea of an accessible field to Chicago after the team played on a similar surface at a Colorado tournament. “This really is our field of dreams.”
Opening Day, May 5, begins with an 11 a.m. ceremony and features several Chicago Cubs players, the Cubs Dixieland jazz band, hot dogs and soda. The RIC Cubs will be presented with championship rings, then lead a softball clinic for the Buddy Baseball team.
“The adults will go over the fundamentals of wheelchair softball and show the kids the skill level you can achieve if you want to,” says Rebecca Polihronis, manager of Cubs Care, which has sponsored the Buddy Baseball league for 10 years. “The men’s team is very competitive. I love for the kids to see that,” she says.
“Now that we have this great neighborhood home, we hope that kids and families without disabilities will come out and watch our practices and games,” says Richey. “At first they may see someone in a wheelchair, but pretty soon they’ll start to see it’s just a game. That transfers to your whole idea of what someone’s true capabilities are.”