I hear his name over the loudspeaker as the announcer calls for each player to run up to the white line. I trot alongside Mitch as he joins the rest of his team. The field is longing for the game to begin. We face the American flag as the national anthem starts to play. As the last word sounds, the energy of the players and the crowd fills the air. The sun is peeking through the clouds. It’s a perfect day for baseball.
All the players in this game have a disability of some kind. My assignment for the day is to pair up with one of the players, helping in any way needed during the game. Across the field, one of my co-volunteers is giving a high five; another is encouraging a buddy to run for each ball that comes near; another is holding the hand of a girl in a wheelchair, telling her she is beautiful and making her smile. My 9-year-old buddy, Mitch, is sitting beside me waiting for a turn at bat. Although Mitch’s disability prevents his body from moving properly, he is just like any other little boy, eager to get out on the field.
Suddenly, I hear it. “Mitch, one of our hardest hitters, you’re up!” Mitch jumps from his seat, runs to home base, picks up the bat, and takes his stance before I even get there. I stand behind him to help if he needs it, but Mitch swings the bat and hits the ball perfectly, sending it far into outfield. We run to first base together. I give him a big high five and we set into our stance, eyes on second base. “Go!” I yell as the next batter sends the ball screaming over the fence. Home run! We set off toward home, jumping up and down as we reach our goal, adding another run to the scoreboard.
When it is our turn in the outfield, Mitch and I trot over to guard first base. Every once in a while, the announcer calls out “Buddy protect!” which means there is a hard hitter at bat. I am ready to move in front of Mitch in case any dangerously fast balls come our way, but I try to let him have enough space so he doesn’t feel like he constantly needs my help. Every time a good hit comes our way, Mitch grabs the ball and throws it back to the pitcher. He has a strong arm and is very proud of the plays he makes.
Before we know it, the game is over. Although our team won, in reality, everyone won. Everyone had a chance to play and have fun. I will never forget the time I spent with these kids; they couldn’t stop smiling!
At the next game for the day, a guy named John asks me to be his buddy. John, a 19-year-old, is always smiling and wanting to give all he can. He uses a walker, but with it he is able to move quickly, and he turns out to be a very fast runner!
Our team, the Michigan Dodgers, are first on the field. John knows exactly where to stand: in between second and third base. The first batter is a girl in a wheelchair. One of the volunteers hands her the bat and wraps her own hands around it to help. After a few tries, they hit a good shot, sending it right to where John and I are standing. Immediately John starts moving toward the ball; he fields it and sends it right back to the pitcher. I look to the dugout and notice that one of my co-workers, Joyce, is using sign language to communicate with a little girl. I feel amazed.
When it is John’s turn to bat, the coach tells me what I have to do to help. I kneel with my right hand on one of the bars of John’s walker, ready to push it into place when it’s time for him to run. John takes his stance at home plate, feet planted, hands tightly holding the bat, knees bent, a few drops of sweat on his forehead, ready to take on the world.
The pitch is released. John swings the bat with all his force. The crowd goes wild. I push his walker toward him; he grabs it and starts to run to first base. We run all the way home. The crowd is roaring with excitement, jumping up and down! John has the biggest smile on his face as he heads back to the bench and will not stop asking for high fives. When this game is over, we congratulate all the players on how well they did.
It felt really good to help put smiles on these kids’ faces. I enjoyed encouraging them to do the best they could and learning to see them for what they can do, rather than what they can’t.
Thank you Mitch, John, and the Miracle League for showing me authenticity, joy, and true happiness. I will never forget this experience, especially those smiles.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.