'He has his opportunity:' North Bay baseball field for kids, adults with disabilities to open Sunday

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A ball field opening in the North Bay is truly is a "field of dreams."

Two years, and $2.5 million later, the field behind the Petaluma Community Center enables people with disabilities to play ball. 

It will open the afternoon of Sunday April 14, a long-awaited launch for the families, volunteers, community groups, and builders who made it happen. 

Friday evening, as finishing touches were being made, KTVU enjoyed an exhibition game of sorts, children of all ages and special needs, hitting with over-sized bats, and scoring.  

"All right Andrew, take it home, take it home, " shouted one fan, as a joyous young man was pushed around the bases in his wheelchair.

On the special rubberized turf, wheelchairs are no problem. The ballpark also has bigger dugouts, and completely accessible restrooms and snack shack. 

The concept is a national initiative, The Miracle League, which removes barriers to baseball for youth and adults with physical or intellectual challenges. 

"Are you ready to play baseball?", Angie Busick asked her nine-year-old son.

"YEAH!" responded Jack, who was relishing his at bats. 

"He has his opportunity to get out there and play and we've been waiting for that his whole life," said Angie.

Before this, Jack was frustrated watching younger brother Charlie play ball on conventional fields. And the new adaptive field is integrated into the community, between the Boys and Girls Club and a Little League diamond. 

"That shows those kids over there that these kids can play and do everything that they can do," added Angie, " and it may look different, but this field is here for a reason and these kids belong." 

Dad John Busick was exulting that he could now coach both sons. The Miracle League will play scheduled match-ups in May, and again in the fall. 

"When there is a disability, you are told 'no' a lot and this is a chance for my child and other children to say 'yes'," said John Busick, "and not only have some fun but feel like you're part of a team."

The mom who connected with The Miracle League and launched the local effort has a teenage son with special needs.  

"I want to play baseball," 15 year old Liam Richardson told KTVU plaintively.  

Jennifer Richardson, founder of Miracle League North Bay, began with an adaptive playground which opened two years ago, designed by disabled children, and built with donations, volunteers, and the support of local contractors. 

"When we built the playground we got people from San Ramon, from the East Bay, from all different areas," noted Richardson, " and I know I used to drive more than an hour to find a playground like this"
Richardson says an estimated 50,000 special needs kids live within forty miles of the ball field, which sits next to the playground, and is open to anyone, disabled or not, chilld or adult. 

"It's because Liam came to us and said, 'I want to play ball' and there really not a lot of opportunities out there," remembered dad Bill Richardson.

"Play ball" can mean anything at this park, and for 19 year old Bailey, who tired of the music and loudspeaker, lolling around in the outfield with his teacher was also fun. 

"Bailey has autism and epilepsy and doesn't speak," said his mother Rachel Grady, "so being out here with everyone who knows what's going on, he feels so comfortable."

Rachel was still in disbelief the field was actually a reality. 

"It's so amazing, because there is no disability here, it's just....him." 

The project is also satisfying for the builders and vendors, often competitors, who came together to create the facility. 

Ghilotti Construction shepherded the $2.6 million project, most of the labor and materials donated. 
"I'd like to play on it, " Willie Ghilotti told KTVU, "and I think it's going to make all the other fields jealous, to be honest."

About 30 children are registered for The Miracle League so far, with more expected on opening day. 
The event is from 12 noon- 3 pm, and everyone is welcome. 

"Every single player that comes out, they have an able-bodied buddy, so it's all about being together," said Jennifer Richardson, "and instead of separation, we're all about inclusion."

More information can be found about the project at MiracleLeagueNorthBay.org