Play ball! Miracle Field in Midland's Central Park to offer accessible, inclusive recreation space

On Oct. 9, construction for a new, accessible baseball field broke ground in Midland’s Central Park.

A barrier-free baseball field, the Miracle Field will enable children and adults with physical and cognitive disabilities to play baseball. Its poured rubber surfaces – rather than grass and other uneven surfaces — make the game accessible to people who use wheelchairs or other assistive devices.

“When you talk about the Miracle Field and you talk about Midland being a baseball town, it just makes logical sense that we would want everybody to be able to play baseball,” says Karen Murphy, director of public services for the City of Midland.

The idea for an inclusive recreation space in Midland was conceived nearly 10 years ago. It wasn’t until 2018 when Marcie Post’s son, Julian, was born with Down syndrome that the idea was rekindled. Sadly, Julian passed away at the age of 11 weeks, but his memory became Post’s mission: to provide kids with special needs in the community with a space to play.

“Undoubtedly, it lets us provide something to a population that we believe has been otherwise fairly underserved,” says Post, the recreation manager for the City of Midland.

Post and Murphy worked together to kick off planning. Central Park was chosen as the location for Midland’s field because it’s next to Central Park Elementary and its play equipment, and also accessible pickleball courts will be opening there in the spring.

“There are lots of opportunities at Central Park, so that you feel like you’re part of something more than just a baseball field,” says Murphy.

Depending on the state of the pandemic, Post and Murphy hope to have a soft opening of the field in spring of 2021, including a ribbon-cutting, exhibition games, and drop-in and open play. When it’s safe to resume league play, they’re aiming for two seasons a year: fall and spring.

If everything goes according to plan, the first league will commence in fall 2021. Beyond Midland County, Post and Murphy are engaging with Isabella, Clare, and Gladwin counties to reach a goal of four teams.

“I want these kiddos to have an opportunity to play against people that they don’t know and to bring in a variety of kids from our area, so it really will be a truly regional baseball diamond,” says Post.

To play, each child is paired up with a community buddy who helps them with batting, fielding, or whatever they need help with.

“Mom and dad get to be a true spectator, watching their kiddo playing [baseball] and not have to be involved,” says Post. “That is invaluable for us.”

Beyond being a space for league play, Murphy and Post also have sights on using the space for recreation therapy, movie nights at the ballpark, a veterans league, and classroom space for the Midland County Educational Service Agency. Because the park’s surfacing is so expensive, it will not always be open to the public; only approved uses will be allowed to keep the park in tip-top shape.

Fundraising for the Miracle Field started with garnering community support through crowdfunding. Through many small donations, $50,000 was raised by the community, and that money was matched by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Soon after, several Midland foundations pitched in and eventually, $1.25 million was raised, paving the way for phase one construction.

Phase one includes building dugouts, bleachers, a parking lot, and restrooms. With an emphasis on staying local, 15 local contractors were hired to assist, with Three Rivers and Fisher Companies leading the team. The team plans to finish construction by spring 2021.

Phase two funding is underway. The remaining $600,000 will be used for amenities: adding a drop-off lane in the parking lot, a shaded shelter, enhanced restrooms, and a concession area. So far, the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation is giving $150,000 in grant money and is offering a dollar-for-dollar match up to $100,000 if another $100,000 is raised by next November.

If you’d like to pitch in to the Middle of the Mitt Miracle League, you can donate to “Central Park Miracle Field Project Fund #1033” at the Midland Area Community Foundation.
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