WHEELING - The Miracle League was invented so that everyone could have a chance to play baseball.
That became a reality Saturday morning for 60 special needs children at the J.B. Chambers I-470 Complex.
After years of raising money, the Miracle League of the Ohio Valley got started in a big way with a doubleheader in front of a packed house.
Heath Gast, above, and all the children on hand were greeted and supported by the Pirate Parrot during Saturday’s events.
Austin McCardle readies to swing on a pitch thrown by Pittsburgh’s Mark Melancon during Saturday’s game.
Jacob Martin rips a shot off the tee Saturday during the grand opening of the Miracle League of the Ohio Valley.
With Pittsburgh Pirates announcers Greg Brown and John Wehner calling the action, Nathaniel Frohnapfel got the day started with a sharp liner up the middle off the Pirate Parrot for the first hit in the history of the field. "It was fun," Frohnapfel said. "I got a good hit and I scored."
During a Miracle League game, everyone gets a hit, everyone gets to run the bases and everyone scores. Players are also allowed to have special helpers, called "buddies."
For Frohnapfel, it was his good friend Patrick Biega, a former standout at Wheeling Central who currently plays for Wheeling Jesuit.
"I have been helping him the last four years, since I was a freshmen in high school," Biega said. "It is a really great experience to be able to help out these guys and get to play some ball.
"I give him some tips. We get ready and we get down. We keep our hands back when we bat. We try to make contact and it worked out for us (Saturday) as he led us off with a big hit up the middle. He did great out there and this is the best I've seen him yet."
The players in the field got plenty of opportunities to make plays as the Pirate Parrot wasn't having the best day on the mound, fumbling the ball all over the field and making errant throws into the outfield.
After scoring 15 runs in the top half of the inning, the visiting team had to be feeling pretty good about its chances. Especially when you consider it had the luxury of having Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Mark Melancon trying to hold the lead.
But like the Parrot, the righty who was acquired in an offseason trade for Joel Hanrahan didn't have his best stuff.
Despite coming in with a .43 ERA against some of the best players in Major League Baseball, Melancon watched as the home team sparked an impressive rally with a 15-run bottom half of the inning for a tie game.
Heath Gast provided the deciding at-bat, a bases-clearing hit and then motored around the bases for the tying run.
"They hit me pretty hard. Fifteen runs in one inning isn't very good," Melancon said with a smile. "This was a blast and it is always fun to spend time with kids and give back a little bit.
''To see these kids get a chance to do what we do on a daily basis, it was really fun. Anytime I get a chance and have the availability and time for this kind of stuff, I love to do it."
The kids in the second game had to wait their turn, but they were just as enthusiastic, including one player sliding into home.
One of the most enthusiastic players of the day was Conor Laska, who had a smile going from ear to ear as he rounded the bases.
Mary Laska, Conor's mother, was filled with emotion as she watched her son.
"It makes me very proud and I am very, very happy there is a baseball field in Wheeling," Mary Laska said. "This is a super, super thing for Wheeling. (Conor) enjoys it all, he really likes the attention. His sister (Karen Laska) is his buddy and she enjoys it as much as he does.
"This field is fabulous. It is such a tribute to Lorraine (McCardle, founder) and Lorie (Untch, president and CEO of Easter Seals) and everyone that made this possible."
For McCardle, it was a day to witness her dream come true. And she promised even more to come.
"I can stand here and say this is great and wonderful, but it is not me that is really enjoying it, it is these kids that are getting to play," she said. "You see all the smiles on these kids' faces as they hear the crowd cheer for them. That's what touches my heart.
"You can play soccer on this field. My son, Austin, wants football. You can play that. You just have to make it adaptable. You have buddies to help them. Anything is possible. You just have to make it adaptable and maybe have a little bit of patience. It was all worth it."
Added Austin, who went 1-for-1, at the plate with a run scored and an RBI: "I had fun. I hit and it went over the fence. I want to keep playing."
The Miracle League of the Ohio Valley will play every Saturday and Sunday between June 1 and July 7. Saturday times are 10 a.m. and noon. Sunday games are at 11 a.m. There are six teams and each gets to play six games.
Players in the Miracle League are Gahmill Byrd, Alfie Barton, Lukas Fitzgerald, Jamey Gallaher, Larry Goodwin, David Lenox, Jordan Miller, Dylan McGlynn, Justin Moore, Zach Neidhert, Tobias Smith, Jeremiah Yocum, Michael Bevan, J.P. Coss, Hannah Day, Jamie Gonzalez, Marsha Hall, Tony Ice, Zach Kozicki, Dalton Roberts, Katie Robinson, Melissa Rulong, Debbie Yost, Cortney Bugala, Kaitlyn Dilly, Austin Ocobock, Stevie Storman, Angel Sweazy, Hailee Tibbs, Kelsi Weaver, Clarissa Whiteman, Payton Wilson, Taylor Wilson, Lexie Wright, Adam Esposito, Evan Voleck, Landyn Carlier, Nathaniel Frohnapel, Heath Gast, Caleb Hlebiczki, Juri Jack, Kyle Kinney, Isaiah Leasure, Kamdin Marcellus, Bruce McAnany, Chase Purpura, Alex Rader, Andrew Simmons, Nathan Auber, Cody Cutright, Si Cutright, Danny Guida, Matthew Lichwa, Anthony Preslin, Trentin Rumskey, Jonas Schmidt, Charlie Stewart, Anthony Welling, Trajan Boggs, Leona Camp, Jack Fonner, Hunter Kinemond, Conor Laska, Spencer Lay, Jacob Martin, Austin McCardle, Dani Mehl, Emilee Mehl, Addy Miller, Savannah Och, Trisha Tucker and Joshua Winters.