Joshua Scurria, 14, took his place at home plate at a baseball game April 23, bat in hands, as his parents cheered in the stands.
Scurria has spinal muscular atrophy, as does his sister, Anna Rose, and moves with the help of a wheelchair.
Thanks to the Miracle League, a baseball league for children with a variety of unique needs, and its specially designed field covered with cushioned synthetic turf, the siblings can play ball without fear of injury, mom Krista Scurria said.
“We used to play out at Independence Park on the grass, and we were thankful for it, but it was tough with the chair. This is so much easier,” she said, pausing to cheer for an incoming teammate.
The games are a little like physical therapy, to some degree, Scurria said, but more fun for the kids.
“See? He’s holding the bat himself. His buddy helps a little, but he’s able to do more and more on his own,” she said. Each player is assigned a buddy to help in whatever ways the player prefers.
But it’s also good kid therapy, too.
“It helps them to be a part of something normal, to just be a part of a team,” she said.
That’s exactly what Brandi Polito had in mind when she decided to move back home and start up the Miracle League in Baton Rouge.
“I really just learned everything as I went,” she said, adding that her first call was to the facility that inspired her to begin this journey — the Miracle League in Frisco, Texas.
As soon as Polito started making calls to members of the local community, she said, people jumped right in to help. Polito and her family raised money to build the Miracle League field, then started recruiting players and volunteers.
It helped, of course, that her dad is a part owner of the Cypress Mounds Baseball Complex, where the special field was built.
“I guess it’s in our DNA,” Polito said. She spent most of her childhood summers in ballparks. She played softball, her brother played baseball, and her grandfather had even built the softball field for St. Louis King of France Church when her mother and father, Sharon and Ronnie, were still dating.
The ballpark visitors are like a second family, and Polito has a hard time imagining what life would have been like without those summer experiences, she said, and she wants to make sure every child who wants to play ball, can.
Every design element of the field is suited to the needs of players — all on-field surfaces have the cushioned coating, and sidewalks leading up to the field assure that it’s accessible to everyone, Polito said.
“Even the placement of the field is chosen specifically with the kids in mind,” said Pam Matassa, who handles communications for the league.
“These kids are a part of our baseball community, and we want them to experience that, so the field is at the back of the complex. We want them to walk through and see all the other teams playing, and let the other teams see them.”
Often, when teams finish up their games, Matassa said, players will walk over to check out the field and cheer on the Miracle League players.
Membership has grown slowly but steadily since its first season — with 20 players on two teams — four years ago. Seven seasons later, they’re up to 60 players and five teams, with the capacity for many more.
“We only play on Wednesday nights, two games each week. We could add more night games if have enough for more teams, and then add weekend games,” Polito said.
“Right now, all games are noncompetitive,” Polito said. “Everyone gets an at-bat, and everyone gets to run all the bases.” When membership reaches appropriate numbers, they might add competitive teams, as well.
That’s something Scurria’s children will look forward to, she said. “I know it’s not competitive, but I promise you, these kids are keeping score,” she added, laughing.
For any children interested in playing on a Miracle League team, players are eligible as long as they are 6 or older and have special needs of any kind, either mental or physical.
There is a $30 fee to play, Matassa said, but scholarships are available.
“We won’t turn anyone away because of that,” Polito said. And though the league has more available volunteers than players, if the league takes off, they’ll need more volunteers, too.
Registration is closed for the current season, but for more information on registration for the fall season, or on volunteering for the league, call Cypress Mounds at (225) 757-5550.