Thursday, May 19, 2022

Flower Mound’s Miracle League is building a field of dreams

Jeff Nelson and Jeff Fisher don’t consider themselves miracle workers by any stretch of the imagination. But when a good plan comes together quickly, and all the right decision-makers are inspired by the same vision of baseball for all, you’re going to feel pretty good about yourself — and the kids who are helped along the way.

In February, the Flower Mound Youth Sports Association (FMYSA) and Miracle League North Texas announced they’d received the green light to convert Field 11 at Bakersfield Park into a dual-purpose softball and Miracle League turf infield.

Miracle League is a 300-plus chapter global baseball league for children with special needs that relies on buddies to help each child play the game and make their way around the bases. Fisher, the North Texas league’s executive director, started this chapter last year and, with help from FMYSA, began hosting games at Bakersfield Park in the fall.

They have 66 kids and counting registered for the spring season. The plan is to have Field 11 turfed and ready to go for this fall.

“Bakersfield Park is the heart of baseball in Flower Mound,” Fisher said. “There are baseball and softball teams coming and going all the time. We want to make sure our Miracle League athletes and parents feel included and are a part of something big.”

Nelson, the FMYSA’s board president, agreed.

“There was a thought to build a field somewhere else, but it’s important to keep everyone together,” Nelson said. “Fish and I don’t think small; we think big. We’re also impatient. We didn’t want this to be a five-year plan — we want it now.”

Nelson added, “It’s baseball for all. So we asked ourselves, ‘What’s the fastest way to do this?’”

Players, parents and coaches team up to make miracles: Carl Robinson, Trish Robinson, Annie Gray Penuel, Conley Robinson, Jered Nelson, Missy Hedges, Alli Penuel, Jeff Nelson, Will Penuel, Brynn Hedges and Jeff Fisher. (Photo by Lynn Seeden/Seeden Photography)

Nelson, Fisher, and FMYSA general manager Tracy Black worked closely with Chuck Jennings and Mark Long from the Flower Mound Parks and Recreation Department to expedite the process. This included Jennings and Long visiting the field during Miracle League games to see for themselves how much of a need there was to have a turf field. Flower Mound Mayor Derek France and State Representative Tan Parker also endorsed the mission.

From there, they had several meetings with the Parks board, the Flower Mound Community Development Corporation, and the Town Council to figure out the logistics and allocate the necessary funds.

The Town Council gave the official go-ahead on February 7, paving the way for construction to begin.

“It was approved unanimously at all three levels,” Nelson said. “That makes you realize that you’re doing the right thing.”

Fisher agreed.

“Some of our athletes are in wheelchairs, so pushing through the dirt infield is fine; it works. But it’s not ideal. A turf field makes everything more sturdy and easier for the kids to be as independent as possible. This is a big expense, though. To get everyone on board was important.”

Ensuring Miracle League has a consistent presence in Flower Mound was always a no-brainer. The national organization was founded in Conyers, Georgia, in 1998 and currently has over 300 global chapters. Before Fisher brought it to Flower Mound in the fall, there wasn’t anything like Miracle League in Denton County.

Fisher said he heard about Miracle League five years ago while looking for ways to get the kids he coached on his young Rattlers team more involved in community service. He found a Miracle League chapter in Arlington with 200 registered kids and got his team involved as buddies.

“One of the athletes I met in Arlington was from Flower Mound, and I thought, ‘Man, that’s a long way to drive.’” Fisher said. “Come to find out, the next closest one to Flower Mound was in Southlake. I then brought the idea to Jeff and Tracy.”

Needless to say, Nelson and Black were on board — and the need was evident. This fall, the league’s first season included 57 special needs kids, 14 of which were added throughout the season since registration was left open. Of those 57 kids, 53 were from Lewisville, Flower Mound, and Highland Village. They also had one child from Sanger and another from Era in Cooke County, proving how many parents were interested in getting their kids involved and how fast and far the word was spreading.

“There’s nothing like it out here, and that’s the draw,” Fisher said. “To see these kids play in person and see them smiling fills your heart with joy. That’s what it’s all about. On top of that, the buddies themselves are having fun. They want to be there, and they understand the importance of making sure all of these kids are included and can enjoy the game of baseball.”

Nelson said the instant community support was phenomenal. Marcus High School baseball coach Jeff Sherman brought his entire squad on opening day in the fall to serve as buddies. Flower Mound High School coach Danny Wallace brought his players to the Halloween game to add to the holiday fun. Both Sherman and Wallace have offered to host Miracle League North Texas games at their respective high school fields this spring.

As for the Field 11 project itself, the short-term plan is to spend between $150,000 and $200,000 to add turf. Eventually, town and organization officials hope to consider additional baseball facility plans, including an inclusive playground and splash pad.

“It was Fisher’s project, but we had the avenue here at FMYSA and in Flower Mound to make it happen quickly,” Nelson said. “At the end of the day, FMYSA is a volunteer, community organization that seeks to provide baseball and softball to everyone. That’s why it was so important to ensure these kids were included, too.”

To learn more about Miracle League North Texas, including its mission, player and buddy registration, and donations, visit miracleleaguentx.com or call 214-923-4421.

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