Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

June 8, 2014

Miracle League’s derby hits a home run

VALDOSTA — Many lives have been touched by the kindness and warmth of people with physical or mental disabilities; Saturday the public had a chance to show their support at the Miracle League of Valdosta’s home run derby at the Billy Grant Complex.

Partnering with Valdosta-Lowndes Parks and Recreation and Valdosta State, the Miracle League hosted the derby to raise funds to construct a $1.2 million handicapped-accessible synthetic rubber field at Freedom Park to serve as a home for all Miracle League games. The field’s dimensions will match those of a youth-size baseball field while the complex will also include dugouts, a pavilion, bathrooms and enclosures.

According to the Miracle League of Valdosta’s website, its mission is simple: bringing people together of various abilities in order to discover their common ground and find joy in serving others. It’s a mission that hit home with the Valdosta chapter’s founder and director, Andy Gibbs.

“What made me want to start the Miracle League here in Valdosta was the fact that where I’m from, Vidalia, a friend of mine actually became handicapped due to an accident,” said Gibbs. “I just noticed he wasn’t able to do all the sports that we do anymore and I just thought there needs to be something more out there.”

Valdosta’s Miracle League was formed in 2004 by Gibbs in an effort to make sports more accessible to handicapped athletes.

“I basically saw a show on ESPN, an ‘Outside the Lines’ kind of show, and they were talking about the Miracle League, so I looked into it a little further and found out that all it costs is $500 to be part of this organization that’s already been established that actually has the same vision I have.”

By raising money from local business owners, Gibbs has been able to keep the Valdosta chapter of the Miracle League alive for nine years without playing one season. That is until George Page, VLPRA director, and Jeremy Davis, Miracle League president, joined Gibbs to provide the Miracle League of Valdosta a home — Freedom Park.

Now it’s a matter of funding.

The home run derby began at 9 a.m. to plenty of fanfare. For $20 a batter — with packages for multiple batters — participants stood at home plate and took swings at baseballs thrown by a pitching machine until they reached the designated amount of “outs.”

Besides the home run derby, participants were also free to take advantage of face painting and a bounce house. A silent auction for a variety of athletic gear was also held with all the proceeds from the event going directly to the Miracle League.

The cause resonated with the community both young and old.

“Well, both my sons and I are involved in baseball,” said participant Kirk Flint. “I have one that plays travel ball and one who would like to, so when we see there’s other kids who would like to do this, but can’t, we want to come out and support them anyway we can.

“The Miracle League of Valdosta is just one way we can do that.”

Flint’s eldest son, Ryan, showed the innate love for the game shared by all the children at Saturday’s home run derby, handicap or not.

“Baseball is just fun. You just enjoy doing it so you want to keep doing it. You can’t stop.”

Despite all the overwhelming success of the home run derby, without a doubt the biggest draw of the afternoon was the local celebrity portion of the home run derby.

Local celebrities including Mike Smith, Scott James, Dan Kerrigan, John Lastinger and Sarah Santanna took their respective shots at driving a softball over the wall of Billy Grant Field.

The list of celebrities was headlined by former Lowndes superstar J.D. Drew, who showed even the celebrities were serious about the cause.

“It’s a great cause,” said Drew. “I’ve got a lot friends that are involved in this and I’ve got a lot personal experience with children with special needs and disabilities. Anything that’s in the community, that’s local, and that I’m here and I have an opportunity to get involved and see it and be their first-hand, it’s nice.

“I’ve been in a lot of cities where we do a lot of things for people, but we don’t necessarily get to interact in our own cities and communities. It’s nice to be involved in something close to home.”

At the end of the day, the home run derby raised more than $2,000 dollars for the Miracle League of Valdosta.

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