NORTH AUGUSTA — Spectators who arrived early at SRP Park had a pre-game spectacle Sunday afternoon in the form of dozens of local residents out on the field with the Augusta GreenJackets and Lexington Legends.
Foam balls and plastic bats were part of the scene, along with an occasional wheelchair and plenty of guidance courtesy of the professional players, as participants in the CSRA's Miracle League baseball program wrapped up their spring season with about 30 minutes of action on the field, with temperatures around 95 degrees.
There were no winners or losers, and everybody got enough help to put the ball in play and get a chance to to walk, run or roll to first base or beyond.
"This is a once-a-year thing," said the GreenJackets' Shane Matheny, an infielder from Bremerton, Washington. "I was here last year when we did it, and it's always something that we as a team look forward to and I personally look forward to as well."
Matheny said the feedback from the local players is overwhelmingly positive. "They're so happy when they get here. It's something that they look forward to, and it's obviously something that we love doing."
The Miracle League system, as described on the organization's website, "removes the barriers that keep children with mental and physical disabilities off the baseball field and lets them experience the joy of America’s favorite pastime."
It adds, "Since the main barriers for these adults arise from the natural grass fields used in conventional leagues, Miracle League teams play on a custom-designed, rubberized turf field that accommodates wheelchairs and other assertive devices while helping to prevent injuries."
Sunday's action, however, was on the GreenJackets' traditional, finely manicured turf, with dozens of players – both pros and otherwise – on the field to participate, shouting out encouragement and some occasional instructions about when and where to run.
"The GreenJackets' staff and players are amazing and have great hospitality and really make this special for our kids," said Rina Sinclair, senior program director for the Wilson Family Y, in Augusta.
Referring to the players who put on the exhibition, she said, "They are all-stars, every Saturday for our spring and fall season, and ... these GreenJacket players are their idols, so they can't wait. They look forward to it – like, the first day of the season, 'When are we going to the GreenJackets' stadium?' That's the first question. They really look forward to it. This is an amazing opportunity for them."
Regular games are held in Augusta, near the Uptown Charlie Norwood Veterans Administration Medical Center (1 Freedom Way, near Wrightsboro Road). Sunday's fun, she said, represents the end of the spring season. The sport of choice in the fall, she said, is kickball.