13 Years of Homes Runs at Miracle League San Diego
Playing on a specially designed accessible baseball field, The Miracle League provides children with disabilities and their families an opportunity to experience the joy and many other benefits that come from playing organized baseball.
According to the Miracle League of San Diego founder, Dan Engel, the field would not have opened in May 2007 without the support of the AJA Foundation and Andy Astrachan. “He not only wrote the first significant donation for the new Miracle League field, but took the lead on helping me raise the additional $200,000 that was necessary to green light the project and begin construction,” said Dan. At Andy’s urging, the league named the field “Engel Family Field” to honor Dan and his family.
In 2017, Andy visited the field with Dan for the first time and later attended the official ten year anniversary celebration banquet for payers, families, volunteers, corporate sponsors, city official and donors. That is where Andy had the great honor to meet a young woman whose name is Ashely Brooke Carlson and her father. More than anyone, Ashley embodies the spirit and ethos of the Miracle League. Ashley is one of its original players who then served five years as a player’s assistant (buddy) on two separate teams before becoming a Miracle League coach and now a vice president and valued member of the Miracle League of Sand Diego Board of Directors.
“The gift extends far beyond the actual dollars contributed by the AJA Foundation and continues to make a profound impact on the San Diego community,” said Dan. “The Miracle League’s mission is simple — that every participant, whether a player, buddy, coach, volunteer, parent or fan, walk away saying they had a great day. We are proud to say that we have accomplished this mission for thirteen years now, and without the efforts of Andy Astrachan and the AJA Foundation, this would not be possible for the nearly 300 special needs players that we serve every season.”
Excerpted from Thriving Through Cancer by Dan Engel, Miracle League San Diego Founder
It was the top of the first inning and the Angels were down nine to nothing to the Red Sox. Up first was the ever-tenacious Kyle Wyborney, a member of the Angels his entire career. He made his way to the plate slowly, his steely eyes fixed on the pitcher. You could tell he would not be deterred from leading off the inning with a hit. The pitcher wound up and let go a pitch right down the heart of the plate. Kyle’s muscles tensed as he swung the bat and connected. As he struck the ball mightily, the announcer roared with approval, “Open the window Aunt Edna, her it comes!”
Kyle appeared to struggle, the crowd unsure if he could make it out of the batter’s box. But I knew better. His mother Donna had told me in advance that Kyle had been practicing all week to walk without his walker for the first time in public. You see, this was the Miracle League of San Diego, a baseball league for children with disabilities, and Kyle was a five-year-old with multiple disabilities including one leg shorter than the other and an out turned foot that required him to use a walker. His buddy took his walker from him while Kyle struggled to gain his balance. And as he walked slowly to first base, a determined look on his face, the crowd began to realize the miracle they were witnessing. We had watched Kyle for two seasons now and were accustomed to his smile whenever he worked his way onto the field. But his smile was not to be found. Rather, he was gritting his teeth because walking was so difficult for him. Kyle never stopped walking and by the time he rounded third base and headed for home, the entire crowd was on its feet giving him a standing ovation. The Red Sox players were cheering as well. When Kyle reached home, he slid face down onto home plate. I’m not sure whether he intended to slide or fell out of exhaustion, but either way, he had hit a home run to lead off the inning. There wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd as we all turned to one another and shared a Miracle League moment. When he rose again, his buddy brought back his walker and helped him make his way to the dugout. When the second and final inning came around, and Kyle was now the final batter with his team trailing by a run, we witnessed the same miracle again. Kyle walked all the way home, slid onto the plate and tied the score to end the game.
We cannot change or cure the medical issues life has dealt children with disabilities. What we can do is provide them an opportunity the experience the joy and benefits that come from playing our National pastime – baseball
The Miracle League of San Diego opened its field in May 2007 with the support of donors including the AJA Foundation. According to Miracle League San Diego Founder, Dan Engel, when Andy Astrachan learned about the Miracle League of San Diego, he recalled the same episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel that prompted Dan to form the league. Andy was similarly moved by Frank Deford’s piece, and took it upon himself to not just write the first significant donation, but to help Dan raise an additional $200,000 that was necessary to greenlight the field and begin construction. At Andy’s urging, the league named the field “Engel Family Field” to honor Dan and his family.
Andy didn’t personally visit Engel Family Field until the official ten-year anniversary celebration in 2017. Andy spent the day with Dan Engel visiting the field, taking videos and then attending a dinner for major donors. At dinner, Andy met one of the original players in the Miracle League, Ashley Brooke Carlson. Ashley is a unique woman, who about five years after being a player in the league, asked if she could also be a buddy and help other players. After a couple of years of doing both for two separate teams, she became a coach instead of buddy. Shortly thereafter, she was invited to join the Board of Directors and was elected Vice President. It’s unclear whom was more moved by the other, because they were engrossed in conversation for at least an hour. The kicker was they figured out that they share a birthday, cementing a newfound and lasting friendship.
The mission is simple, that every participant, whether a player, buddy, coach, volunteer, parent or fan, walk away saying they had a great day. They have proudly accomplished this mission for thirteen years now, and without the efforts of generous donors such as the AJA Foundation, this would not be possible for the almost 300 special needs players that are served every season.