Baseball bat, glove and ball on a bench in the dugout

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Posted onNovember 9, 2014 Miracle League of Manasota finishes 6th season, grows to more than 130 players

The Miracle League of Manasota is expecting improvements to its facility by the spring: a new concession stand, restrooms and a rain shelter will be finished.

UNIVERSITY PARK — As the Pirates and Rays warmed up before their Saturday-morning baseball game at Longwood Run Park, “Happy” by Pharrell blasted over the loudspeaker.

” … Happy, bring me down … Can’t nothing, bring me down … Love is too happy to bring me down … ”

For the 135 players in the Miracle League of Manasota, Saturday mornings are one of their happiest times of the week.

The Miracle League of Manasota, in its sixth season, gives children and adults with disabilities the chance to play baseball.

On Saturday, 9-year-old Emma Howey stepped up to the plate. Howey, who has played in the league since its beginning, swung and solidly hit the ball.

“That’s a fair ball,” the Public-address announcer said. “She’s going to round first and head for second. Here comes Emma. She’s not stopping.”

Howey, who has cerebral palsy and uses a walker, kicked up dust in the basepaths as she pulled up at third. She had hit a stand-up triple for the Pirates.

“Sports is never really something I really thought of putting her in until the Miracle League,” Emma’s mom, Jennifer Howey, said. “She loves it.”

Since the first game in March 2012, Bob Mitchell, president of The Miracle League of Manasota, has watched the program grow dramatically from 53 players in the first season to eight teams with 135 total players this season ranging in age from 6 to 82.

And as the number of players and volunteers continues to grow, the facility at Longwood Run Park, off University Parkway, does as well. In time for the 2015 spring season, slated to begin in March, the park’s concessions stand, barrier-free-access restrooms and a picnic pavilion will be completed. Mitchell estimated that the entire project will cost close to $300,000.

“My goal was to put in place a facility that was second-to-none and could serve the community of the disabled in both Manatee and Sarasota,” Mitchell said. “It’s a very special thing to see the growth in the players from year to year and to see how their confidence has grown and how they have become much more sociable. It is just heartwarming. That’s what it is all about.”

For Sarasota resident Wendy Mann Resnick, she said she is lucky that her son Bobby, who is mentally challenged, is able to play baseball, which Resnick said makes him “so happy.”

“He loves it and it makes me incredibly happy seeing him have so much fun in his life,” she said.

Bobby, 36, enjoys looking at the pictures of himself in his uniform playing baseball, Resnick said.

During the course of the 10-week fall season, which ends Nov. 15, Laura Tellor, the league’s executive director, has taken more than 6,000 pictures. Before the closing ceremony around noon Nov. 15, Tellor and volunteers, will make a personalized photo book for every player.

“I know the importance of being able to go back and look at those photos,” Tellor said. “Because it’s the end of the season, it’s kind of a sad time.”

The players will also receive a goodie bag filled with items donated from the community as well as a trophy.

Tellor said all the volunteers — from the coaches to the high school students — also will be thanked at the close of the season.

Bradenton resident and Rays’ team mom Linda Harring and her husband, Ken, who is the team’s manager, came out before the first season to see what the league was all about and have been volunteering ever since.

“I just love to see them out there smiling,” she said. “They always want to be here.”

Even first-time volunteer Thomas Pipolo, an IMG Academy student, was moved by the smiles on all the players’ faces.

“The joy for the game they have is pretty amazing and it puts things into perspective,” he said while volunteering on a recent Saturday.

Cardinal Mooney High School senior Meghan Grabowski came to volunteer with her cheer squad once and has been returning almost every Saturday since.

“I love to see the smiles on their faces as they round home plate,” she said, adding that she wrote her college essay about her involvement with the league.

Through the Miracle League of Manasota, high school students have learned how to interact with people with whom they may not have the chance otherwise.

“This allows high school kids to come out and say, ‘Gee, you aren’t that different than me’ and to see that interaction and personal growth for high school students to accept people different than them,” Tellor said. “They will have that for the rest of their lives.

“Over time we have come to realize that it is the players enhancing the volunteers’ lives. The Miracle League has allowed that to happen. It is just really the most amazing thing ever.”