Some very special athletes are a step closer to having their dreams come true thanks to Union County Council’s decision to give them their own baseball field at the Timken Sports Complex.
Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to allow the Miracle League of Union County to use Field No. 1 at the complex for its games. The motion also permits the league to apply to the county for State Parks And Recreation Department (PARD) funds to help cover the cost of adapting the field for the special needs athletes who will be playing on it. The motion also states that the balance of the cost of adapting the field will be covered by funds raised by the league.
The vote followed a presentation by Amy Austin, coordinator and co-chair of the Miracle of League of Union County, who asked council to help the league in its efforts to secure a field for the special needs athletes it serves.
“I wish we were coming with great news that we have all the funding we need and a location secured and will be breaking ground next week,” Austin said. “I am afraid this is not the case but we feel confident that you will hear us out tonight and we will leave this place with a new hope for a field of dreams by next year.”
Austin said that while the league had received a great deal of support from the community over the past year, it was still running into the problem of finding land for a field and whether or not it would have sufficient funds to purchase the property and then build the facility. She said that even if land was donated to the league, a field that could meet the needs of its athletes could cost as much as $2 million to build.
Instead of this potentially long and expensive process, Austin asked council to allow the league to use Field No. 1, describing what it would mean to the special needs children and adults of Union County.
“Miracle League removes the barriers that keep children and adults with mental and physical disabilities off the baseball field and allows them to experience America’s favorite pastime,” Austin said. “We believe we live in a community without barriers and that is why we are proposing that we be allowed to have use of the first field on the right at the Timken Complex. All of the amenities are in place. There is a parking lot, concession area, restrooms, all handicapped accessible.”
Austin’s request came just one week after council voted to allow Union County High School’s Varsity and JV teams to practice at the complex as often as they see fit. She asked that council give the Miracle League the same opportunity to share in the use of the complex.
“We realize the intended purpose of the Timken Complex was to be a showpiece for Union County,” Austin said. “It was to bring people to our town, and in turn, increase revenue. It has been brought to our attention that it has been approved for other leagues to be able to play and practice on these fields. We are asking that The Miracle League be able to do the same.
“Our games may be played a little different but our players are no different in that they need and deserve to be a part of the community in every way possible,” she said. “Their desire to play is astronomical. Over 300 people came out to support us at our exhibition game last year and saw for themselves the smiles and tears of joy from the players to the family and fans.”
Austin said allowing the league to use the field will generate revenue for the county as council intended when it authorized the construction of the facility.
“We will bring folks to Union while we are serving our own,” Austin said. “We will have something to offer families with special needs children and adults who may be considering moving to our town. We already have the support and now all we need is a field.”
During Austin’s presentation, a Miracle League player presented each member of council and Supervisor Tommy Sinclair with a baseball signed by a number of the players. Also written on the ball was the question, “Will you help make my dreams come true?”
Minutes later, council answered yes, voting to allow the league to use Field No. 1 at the complex and apply for the PARD funds allocated by the state to the county.
Union County Recreation Department Director Becky Cobb said Wednesday morning that the county currently has available approximately $47,000 in PARD funds which the league will have access to. Cobb said it is possible the state will make another allotment in July which would bring the county’s share up to approximately $60,000.
The league would use the funds to adapt the field for its special needs players, many of whom use walkers and wheelchairs which makes it difficult for them to play on a conventional field. Cobb said the field would be covered with a “low-impact surface” that would make it easier for the special needs athletes to play and reduce the chances of them hurting themselves if they were to fall. She said this would take the form of a “poured, rubberized pad” which would cover the entire field. Cobb estimated the cost of installing the low-impact surface at approximately $150,000.
In addition to the athletes of the Miracle League, Cobb said the low-impact field could also be used for other athletic events requiring such a playing surface including Special Olympics as well as a seniors league whose members might suffer from leg and knee problems. She said the low-impact field could enable these athletes and those of the Miracle League to play baseball.
Sinclair said that the field will meet the league’s needs while also helping fulfill the complex’s mission of bringing revenue into the county.
“They have a need and they’d explored some opportunities to acquire land elsewhere,” Sinclair said Wednesday morning. “While the field will have to be upfitted to meet Miracle League standards it will be less expensive than starting from scratch. The infrastructure as far as parking, restrooms, stands, bleachers and dugouts is already there. Also, the maintenance system is already in place and the county has made a commitment to use recreational funds to upfit the field.
“There are counties such as Chester, Newberry and Laurens that do not have the kind of facility we soon will at Field No. 1,” he said. “They could also make use of this facility as the local Miracle League will and bringing these teams in to play here is in keeping with the purpose of the complex which is to generate revenue for the county by attracting baseball and softball games and tournaments.”
For more information about the Miracle League and/or to contribute toward the new field surface contact Amy Austin at (864) 466-7879.