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Special Report--

Georgia is home to Miracle Baseball

Nov. 15, 2004

Alpharetta-- When you hear the crack of the bat and the cheering crowds and the announcer calling out the names of batters over a bullhorn, it sounds like any little league baseball game.

But if you take a closer look at this game, you'll see the smiles seem a little bigger. If you take a closer look, you'll see the kid behind the plate isn't in a catcher's squat, he's in a wheelchair.

"What time is the game at?" 13-year old Marc Fuentes asked as he rolled his wheelchair through his family's Forsyth County home. "I love baseball... because it's my favorite sport."

Marc's parents pitch wiffle balls to him and his brother Corey shags the balls in the yard to help Marc warm up for the Mustangs' last game of the season. "There's not a lot of opportunities for children with disabilities to play," Marc's mom Sherri said. But that changed thanks to the North Metro Miracle League in Alpharetta.

John McLaughlin helped start the league after learning about the first Miracle League not too far away in Conyers. "It's about kids belonging, kids being acknowledged, honored and included." What started right here in Georgia six years ago has spread throughout the country, giving tens of thousands of children and adults a chance to play baseball. "They have a tremendous capacity despite having a disability to have fun," McLaughlin said

The rules are a little different. They play on specially designed artificial surfaces. Every player bats in every inning. Every runner scores. And every team wins. "It's amazing what a simple game as baseball can do for these kids," Marc's dad Marcelo said.

It also does a lot for the people who love the players. Sherri said,"It's more than just a baseball field. It's a place where families can come and they understand each other." And where people without disabilities can learn from those who live every day with challenges most of us can't imagine.

"It's a big hitter," the teenager gripping the handles on the back of Marc's wheelchair told his buddy as they prepared to run from second base to third. Each player is joined on the field by a volunteer buddy to help through every game. "It makes the kids part of the community. Because now kids will walk by Marc and say hey Marc because they've been his buddy," Sherri said.

And those buddies are inspired by Marc who has cerebral palsey. Even after serious surgery left him with plates and screws in both legs, he's on the field every week. "He was here in his body cast playing," Sherri said. "Emotionally, physically, spiritually, this is it for him. This is the only way he can release himself and be himself. He's a kid not just a guy in a wheelchair," Marcelo added.

And when Marc gets a chance to score, he's no longer a guy in a wheelchair at all. As everybody in the crowd cheers his name, Marc gets out of his chair in the third base line. His dad and his buddy help him into a walker, and Marc makes it home on his own two feet.

It's another little miracle. It's just another day in the Miracle League.

posted @ 12:15 p.m. by ben.roberts@walb.com

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