Results tagged ‘ Miracle League ’

Miracle League, Mardi Gras Ball and King Rick!

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You have been hearing me mention the Miracle League for the past few days. Maybe on Day 6 of the charity week posts we should get to know this great organization. In 1997 in Conyers, Georgia, local baseball coach Eddie Bagwell invited the first child with a disability to play on his organized baseball squad. A young man named Michael, a 7-year old baseball enthusiast who practiced and attended every game in his wheelchair was the initial pioneer.

At first Michael was there to cheer on his little brother, but the following year, in 1998, the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association (RYBA) decided it was time for a chance. They instituted the first league designed especially for children with disabilities and invited other special needs kids in their region to join their budding league.

From the start, the leagues players had expressed a keen interest in taking the field in uniforms, make plays in the field and round the bases just like their peers on the other complex fields. The initial season began with 35 players split into 4 teams. And even if their rules bend the basic rules of organized baseball, the rules were constructed and initiated to give these players the entire baseball experience. Here is a list of some of the first league rules designed for this specialized league:

*** Every player bats once per inning.

*** All players are safe on base.

*** Every player scores a run before the inning is over (the last batter gets a Home Run).

*** Community kids and volunteers serve as “buddies” to help assist the players during the games.

*** Each player and each team wins every game.

Every Child Deserves A Chance to Play Baseball”

That has been the motto of the Miracle League ever since that first moment Bagwell invited young Michael to play with his team.

From the first moments of the leagues existence to today, the main element of this league was for the players to realize they are not limited by their wheelchairs or disabilities but only by their own minds. Presently there are over 240 Miracle League organizations around the country, including Puerto Rico. At this moment in time, over 200,000 children and young adults playing in Miracle League around the country.

Locally, the Kiwanis Club of the Gulf Beaches heeded the call to duty back in October 2004 after a speaker spoke and shoed the group a DVD about a new innovative youth sports program that had been showcased on the HBO Real Sports program. It was video about the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association and their journey to offering the first barrier free baseball field for kids with special needs.

 

41111680.jpgThe presentation tugged at the hearts strings of everyone in attendance, and after the speaker finished, every member stood up and cheered, all agreeing that the Tampa Bay region needed their own Miracle League ballpark. 14 months later, “Violet’s Field” which is situated between the existing baseball field at the Azalea Youth complex held it initial opening ceremonies.

Ongoing support is needed to keep up with the constant upkeep and maintenance of this complex, and the Kiwanis Club of the Gulf Beaches will conclude their third annual month of Mardi Gras celebration with a the organization’s second annual charity Mardi Gras Ball to be held at the historic Gulfport Casino on Monday, March 7, 2011 from 7-11 pm to benefit the Miracle League of the Gulf Beaches.

The event will be presided over by King Rick Vaughn , who is also the Tampa Bay Rays VP of Communications and a great supporter of the Miracle League program. He will be joined in this event by his lovely Queen Sue. There will be an additional silent auction of items from around the community, including a few autographed pieces of baseball memorabilia along with several interesting door prizes to be distributed to those in attendance.

The ballroom will be filled with the sounds of Cajun, Zydeco, Blues and Jazz music as guests bask in the quasi-New Orleans atmosphere complete with authentic Hurricane cocktails and authentic food provided by Bayou Catering. I actually was invited to the 2010 event by fellow Rays/Pepsi Fan Wall of Fame member George Stone, who is also the local Miracle League’s Director of Operations.

 

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Iwas promised a night of Cajun fun, food and excitement, and it delivered with gusto. I especially found the dance (Fais do-do) lessons extremely helpful since I am one of those people who love to learn something new every day. From the hour of group instruction to the amazing red beans and rice, Etouffee and decadent desserts, it was truly a great night to remember.

I hope more of the faces I see among the stands in Tropicana Field will be able to attend this 2011 great event that helps support the Miracle Leagues of the Gulf Beaches. The cost is $ 25.00 and can be purchased in advance by calling Sue Reynolds at (727) 398-1360 in advance of the event. It is not mandatory that you dress in the garb of the Fleur-de-lis, but masks and flamboyant Mardi Gras themed apparel does help to heighten the mood. Until then, “Laissez le Bon temp rouler” (Let the Good Times Roll).

 

Post Golf Classic Times at the Courtside Grille


               
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I stood there at 6 pm just chuckling while viewing one of the wildest sights of my life just coming into focus from the golf course. I had just gotten back  to the Bayou Club clubhouse area after going over to the post-celebration hot spot, the Courtside Grille, to help set-up some of the preparations for that nights Toby Hall & Friends Golf Classic awards presentation and silent auction event. And coming into focus was the wild pack of fastly approaching golf carts screaming at full speed towards our tiny segment of concrete at the final Check-In point.

It looked  more like a massive invasion of dark polo shirted special ops guys, minus the face paint, who had taken off just six hours earlier from this very spot. Between that moment there were chances to win a 2-year FREE lease on a brand new Range Rover with a Hole-in-One on the 16th hole, or a prize by winning the Closest To The Pin ball placement on Hole # 3.

And there was the extra bonus holes of beverage offerings and samples to mix with great conversation and tales of mishaps and great shots upon the golf course that afternoon.

But now just around the bend from the putting green, I could see a few golf carts playing an impromptu game of cart tag, but the mad adventure ended up with laughs and fond memories and no injuries or carts accidently finding the water or a sandtraps during a great day of golf.

I heard a great tale about how Murph, who most Rays fans know as one of the head security guys at Rays games trying to hit a ball off the edge of a sandtrap and ending up rolling head over heels into the sandtrap with the ball a few feet away.

Or of Classic golfer who had a set of furry golf club tops that looked exactly like the gopher from “Caddyshack” and also carried with him on the course an animated plastic Carl the Greenskeeper statue that played snippets and lines from the movie. And during this Scramble event, he was known to hit the red button and send a loud vocal message like “It in the hole!” just as his fellow pairing members were beginning their backswing or even putting.

I heard about a multitude of shots slicing or hooking with the impromptu wind gusts, but was glad to learn that there were no broken windows or extreme shots near pools or trees lining the golf course.

Instead I heard the echoes of plans and pleas to their fellow golfers’ to come out to the Courtside Grille for some 19th hole post-event fun and relive the great golf stories told by the other pairings in the tourney. I was standing at the epicenter of the conclusion of the physical part of the Toby Hall & Friend Golf Classic, and within thirty minutes, this same group of golfers would again converge and reconnect with a celebration of the day, and a fond rememberance of the windy drives, missed shots or unexpected birdie putts.
 

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There were pleads to some golfers to come out and have fun for a few hours, and others who eventually caved in and put on the red wristband and showed up to actually enjoy themselves laughing and conversing with the crowds at Courtside Grille. And for me it was another amazing chapter to this ever unfolding day.

I talked a bit with Matt Gieger, the former NBA star and one of the owners of the Courtside Grille, and he even remembered meeting me a long time ago when I was a Evening Independent Sports Correspondent doing High School Basketball games, including interviewing him  after a game at Countryside High School.

This golf classic provided me with an opportunity to reconnect with an old friend who I used to sit with in the Checker’s Bullpen Cafe for years shagging B P foul balls and actual Rays game balls. Keith and his girlfriend Rose actually introduced me to Tovy Hall for the first time. Keith was even featured as a caddy during a Rays commercial segment featuring Rocco Baldelli and the Happy Heckler a few years ago.

I learned that night that Rose’s son, Tommy will be working with Guy Gallagher in the Visitor’s Clubhouse at the Trop. during 2010, which should be an amazing opportunity for him to gain some valuable experience as he goes on to pursue a possible career in Sports Medicine.


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We reconnected while waiting for the Golf Classic to begin in the clubhouse, and he called another mutual friend of ours, Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi, who was now sporting some new chin hairs up to Courtside Grille for some of the post event fun. Cursi told me about his recent wedding and honeymoon down in the Carribean and how amazingly warm and a perfect setting to get away from baseball and the cold streak Florida was hit with back in early December 2009.

Got a chance to talk with Rays reliever Dan Wheeler about his 2-week vacation to Italy this off season and how it was an experience beyond words and the ultimate trip of his life. Got another opportunity to chat with ex-Rays fan favorite Jorge Cantu, who just got a nice raise from the Marlins about his excitement over his team’s chances and that he should be with the then Miami Marlins when they play their first game in that new retractable roof stadium and finally put an end to those dastardly rain delays that had become commonplace in past Marlins contests.

I talked a bit about the city of Seattle with new Mariner’s First Baseman Casey Kotchman who was traded to Seattle this off season and is really looking forward to playing in Safeco Field because of his past success playing in that stadium. We also chatted about his time in Boston and playing in historic Fenway Park before getting back to the wide variety of dining options in Seattle like the Metropolitan Grille, the great abundance of fresh seafood,or a simple late night breakfast adventure at Beth’s Cafe.

And with our talk, I began to miss these types of events and the great times associated with them that I  sometimes used to frown upon in my football past.

I had a few years of doing a lot of charity fundraising activities when I was playing football, but I was not an avid golfer beyond a little putt-putt, and that put a crimp in the  social fabric of spending times like these with some of my fellow players back in the late 80′s and 90′s.

But I still contributed to events and went to other events featuring billards or bowling tourneys. But now I really regret becoming distant and unattached over the last several years and missing the great times playing or even attending fundraising tournaments set-up by fellow players for their charities or foundations.

The night was filled with great moments like the announcement that boxer Winky Wright and Jorge Cantu’s pairings won First Place in their respective golf flights at the days event. With both groups hooping and hollering for a re-match between the two pairings for total supermacy. 

After the presentation, it was onto the fun business of an vocal auction for a pair of celebrity-signed Cornhole boards made just for the Golf Classic. I got to admit, I had never seen these types of boards up close before today, but I am going to figure out how to construct a pair of my own very soon.

If you have not seen them, they are a set of two wooden  rectangles with a circle cut out in them for a beanbag to fall through. I had seen them on television at Ohio State and Gator tailgating parties before games, but had never been brought into “the culture”  of the Cornboard before that night.


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 Toby Hall served as the Master of Ceremonies and Auctioneer, and he began first by thanking everyone involved in the Golf classic and gave out the plaques to the Golf Classic winners. Then began the bidding auction of a Cornhole board set. Each board piece had the identical signature of every celebrity participants of the golfing event in black Sharpie upon its flat surface. The bidding started at $ 250., but quickly rose higher and higher as the adrenaline began to build in the room.

There was one guy, who was a member of one of the pairings basically bidding against one athlete on the other side of the bar wanting that signed Cornhole treasure. Back and forth they both went until finally at that golden $ 500. threshold, the bidding quickly ended, and the excited winner bounced triumphantly up to claim his new prize.

The funniest part of it all is that his wife was more excited than he was to win it, and was screaming and jumping up and down kissing the board and him simultaniously as he paid for the item. I actually did bid on one of the silent auction items, a set of GH Mumm’s champagne glasses that would go great with my signed 2008 Rays Playoff signed champagne bottle. Sure I got something that will add to my  ever-expanding clutter of Rays stuff, but I also wanted to somehow give something back after spending such a great day with some great athletes.

The true winner of the night was the Miracle League of Florida who got the proceeds of this Golf Classic to help build a state-of-the-art field in Hillsborough County. I learned that night that there are currently 100 Miracle League fields completed in the United States, and another 100 are currently under construction and the league now serves over 80,000 chldren and young adults with disabilities a chance to enjoy the game of baseball.

And the Miracle League has a awesome overall goal of establishing 500 fields and expanding to help over 1.3 million  league members around the world enjoy  the thrill of baseball and some physical interaction with fellow players. I love their organization’s motto: “Every Child Derseves A Chance to Play Baseball”.


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As the night drew to a close, the same wild man who had been such a whirlwind of activity on the golf course had some how commandeered the use of a digital camera and was taking expose’ photos of the crowd of guests lining the bar area and the surrounding tables. With his vocal pleas of “Work it girl” or “Show me sassy” he brought the event back to an instant state of reality that we were celebrating a fantastic day and forming some great memories to tell again and again during the season.

But it will be moments like this being told in clubhouses all over MLB that will garner extra exposure and attention to the Toby Hall & Friends Golf Classic and hopefully lead to expanding the field in the coming years. The players going back to their respective teams talking about this event will bring it to gain more prestige in the coming years.

I want to thank Toby Hall and Tracey Ringstaff for letting me get close with some old friends and helping out during this great event. I truly forged some great memories that day/night. I  learned after I got home about Hall’s deal with Texas, but I know he would rather remember that night as a celebration for the Miracle League, and not about his Rangers signing.

Showing local support for the charities/foundations of our athletes is very important in this time of economic struggles. The usual revenue resources have begun to stretch extremely thin and the numbers and amounts of contributions some times trickle down slower and prolong the goals of these events. but events like this Golf Classic help re-establish a network of helping other organizations and leagues within our local communities. 

                              
                                   
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I ask only of you that the next time you come to a baseball game and a group of anxious kids in baseball jerseys asks for a single dollar donation, please give to them so they can enjoy playing this great game. So you might have to drink a medium instead of a large drink…It is no biggie, but to that group of kids, it could be the difference in going to an out-of-state baseball tournament or staying home and missing out on a lifetime adventure, or a character building moment…..

I guess the Toby Hall Golf Classic got me to remember that even a small amount of time volunteering, or even change from my car ashtray can build to fulfilling dreams and goals…. and that might be the best treasured moment from this event for me.

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