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'Miracle' ballpark for special-needs kids nears first pitch

Bryce Madsen played in the North Metro Miracle League for four years but it was a long drive from Woodbury. He and his family are looking forward to participating in the East Metro Miracle League this summer. Submitted photo

For four years, Kelly Madsen has been taking her son to play ball in Blaine every Thursday night.

The hour- and- a half-long drive wasn't very convenient for the Woodbury mom of 9-year-old Bryce Madsen who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a rare disease characterized by muscle atrophy and loss of motor function.

But Blaine was the one location she could take her son to play "miracle" baseball on his power wheelchair, without worrying about a thing.

Beginning this summer, however, Madsen and a number of other families from the east metro won't have to drive so far to participate in Miracle League -- a nonprofit organization that helps communities build baseball fields for children with mental or physical disabilities.

A Woodbury field will be home to the East Metro Miracle League this summer, when construction will be finished after about three years of fundraising.

The Woodbury Rotary Club took on the task of raising money to help cover the cost of the field, while partnering with the Miracle League of Minnesota, city of Woodbury and the Minnesota Utility Contractors Association (MUCA).

"Unless you've seen one of these games, you have no idea what it does to put a smile on (children's) faces," Rotary President Cork Wicker said.

The total cost of the project is about $350,000, in addition to special rubber surfacing for the field slated at $127,000. The field will have a cushioned synthetic turf that accommodates wheelchairs, in addition to extra handicap parking spots.

Rotary members have raised more than $100,000 so far and are hoping for a good turnout at their second annual Miracle Gala set for 6 p.m. Friday, April 29 at Axel's at Prestwick Golf Club in Woodbury.

The field will be located right next to the East Ridge High School existing softball fields, where some local kids with developmental and physical disabilities have played before.

Wicker said the location makes Miracle League players feel more integrated with other students and not so segregated.

Kids in the league get to play two full innings so everybody gets to bat, everybody gets to run around the field and everyone is actually awarded trophies with their names engraved on them at the end of the season.

"In Bryce's eyes, it's always a success. It's always a win for him," Madsen said, adding that he shows off his trophies every time his family has company over. "It's definitely a time where they can all be themselves, but at the same time, be like other people where they're playing normal sports."

Anyone between the ages of 3 and 18 can register for the east metro league beginning mid-April, said Michelle Okada, city of Woodbury recreation specialist.

Since word has spread about the new field, area residents have been inquiring about the league, including some from Stillwater who were driving to Minnetonka in order to play.

"It's more of a regional program than it is a city program," Okada said. "We know that it will draw from communities around Woodbury as well."

Wicker said about 2,800 kids could make use of the Miracle field, which will be named after former MUCA executive director Jeff Hanson.

Players are paired with buddies who help on and off the field. Buddies can be parents, college or high school students, athletes or community volunteers.

Because many east metro families drove all the way across the Twin Cities to play in Miracle League, it was difficult for their friends and relatives to go watch or help out during the games.

Madsen said having a Woodbury field will give players an opportunity to share special moments with friends and family.

"I think Bryce will feel so proud when he sees everyone cheering for him," she said.

If all goes according to plan, Bryce will have one more trophy to show off by the end of the summer. Groundbreaking on the field will begin as soon as the ground thaws and the first game is tentatively slated for July.

Tickets for the upcoming gala are $55 per person. For more information, call 651-714-4656.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.