South suburban focus
Like many boys, Lawson Sizemore wanted to play baseball more than anything else in the world. But a debilitating disease that left him requiring special leg braces to walk was getting in the way.
That was until he found The Miracle League of Joliet, which opened its inaugural season in May and has already given 84 children with special needs, including 5-year-old Lawson, of Shorewood, the opportunity to play ball.
The league plays at the Miracle League Baseball Field at Silver Cross Field in Joliet, home of the Joliet Jackhammers. The field is made of rubberized synthetic turf and all of the bases and baselines are completely imbedded into the turf.
Miracle League has 80 existing fields across the country with another 100 fields under construction. Joliet’s field is the first to be built inside a professional baseball stadium.
The specially designed field came with a hefty price tag—$758,000. All but $250,000 has already been raised, with $100,000 coming from the Chicago White Sox. The Miracle League of Joliet hopes the rest will come from donations and fundraisers.
Under the Miracle League rules, every player bats once each inning. All base runners are safe and every player scores a run before the inning is over (last one up gets a home run). Players are allowed assistance and each team wins.
The Miracle League of Joliet is the result of three years of hard work and dedicated volunteers. It started when Peter Ferro arrived home inspired by a co-worker who told him about the league. "We checked it out and knew right away that we wanted to bring it to Joliet, we knew that it was what we were supposed to do," says Sharon Ferro, executive director of Miracle League of Joliet. The project quickly became a family affair, with Peter serving as assistant executive director and son Nick becoming president.
Just like in the movie "Field of Dreams," Ferro learned that "if you build it they will come." A story about The Miracle League of Joliet in the local paper brought them their head coach, Bob Landi. The first registration brought out twice as many players as anticipated.
The Miracle League of Joliet is open to kids ages 4-19. "The disabilities in our players range from mild autism to being quadriplegic," says Ferro. "They all have different needs and different limitations. So team placement is done according to physical and mental ability rather than age."
Because some of the kids can bat but not run and others can run but not bat, each player is assigned a ‘buddy’ who stays with them the entire time they are out in the field.
Lawson’s buddy is particularly special—it is his 16-year-old brother Gerald.
"Helping him enjoy his passion for baseball ... it has made us closer as brothers," Gerald says.
Lawson was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease when he was 3. "Sometimes he asks me ‘Mommy, how come my feet don’t work? But on that field ... there he is in his glory," says Marlene Sizemore, Lawson’s mom.
You can see his passion for baseball in his eyes, she says.
And, she adds, the field is amazing.
"You are around people who understand, that are there for each other. It doesn’t matter that the disabilities are different. We don’t see the disabilities, we just see our children playing baseball ... and loving it."
The next six-week session starts Sept. 6. You can register online at www.miracle leagueofjoliet.com or by calling (815) 258-3799 or (815) 744-3041. The fee is $35 to cover the cost of uniforms and insurance. Registration ends Aug. 8, but Sharon Ferro says not to be afraid to call after that date—"we’ll take players as long as there is still room."