116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — About 55 miles south of the Dyersville scene that became famous for that one baseball movie, there’s another lesser known field of dreams where kids come alive.
In this field, the scoreboard is mostly for authenticity, and the scorekeeper is authorized to do some creative math. That’s because every Miracle League game for the 84 players this season ends in a tie after everyone has a chance to hit a ball and run the bases.
It’s a relatively loose approximation of baseball, Commissioner Byron Tabor concedes, but the kids and young adults playing wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When I score, all the people cheer for me,” said Mount Vernon player Gunnar Fishler, 15. “I am an important part of the team. I cheer for teammates to encourage them, and they cheer for me.”
Gunnar Fishler, the son of a baseball coach, has always been interested in sports — especially baseball. Before he got involved with the Marion league, he played with the Davenport Challenger League.
On the Miracle League, simple adjustments like a rubberized mat make it possible for him to use the walker he has relied on most of his life.
The Marion BBQ Rendezvous, one of the Miracle League’s biggest annual fundraisers, is the best way to help disabled players play baseball each year.
Where: Lowe Park, 4500 N. 10th St., Marion
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. June 4
Cost: Admission is free; Food vendor prices will vary
Details: Vendors at the event will include Willie Ray's Q Shack, Sugarfire BBQ, Bob's BBQ Emporium, Bambbq, and more
Live entertainment includes The Janey's at 11 a.m. and The Pastmasters from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Dogs of Society, an Elton John rock tribute band, will perform from 6 to 9 p.m.
“We started to look at what he can do instead of what he can’t do,” said Frank Fishler, Gunnar’s father. “It’s about an hour of people going out and doing the best they possibly can and being proud of what they do.”
Designed to give every player an equal chance and with all games ending in a tie, there’s no need for a score in the game where they learn that there’s more to life than winning and losing.
Since 2019, the league, made possible by Prospect Meadows in Marion, has grown substantially. With an average age of 12 and players accepted up to age 24, the league has grown by about 30 players this year alone.
Provided to families at no cost, the biggest bridge to build has been spreading awareness of the league. With the only Miracle League between the Quad Cities, Parkersburg and Des Moines, players drive from miles around to play in Marion.
“There are so many things that families have to sort through and worry about,” said Jenn Anderson, a social worker who helps the team with player recruitment. “Sometimes the fun things have to get dropped down on their list.”
She said the sport is important for both families and players. Kids can enjoy being kids, and parents get to cheer their children on from the stands like any other school sport.
“There’s a big need for this out there that people didn’t realize until these kids started signing up,” said Tabor, who founded the Miracle League with Marion Metro Kiwanis in 2019. “If the league doubles again, we’re going to be full.”
Tabor started to pursue the idea after falling in love with the adapted sport that was an award-winning project of another Kiwanis club in Des Moines. After watching a player in a wheelchair run around third base and across home plate, he was hooked.
“I’m standing there with a camera in my hand … and he has this giant smile on his face.” Tabor said. “I’m soaking up the pure joy in that moment, and I looked down at the camera and didn’t even take a picture of it. It just wraps you up, you lose yourself into it.”
Where: Prospect Meadows, 1850 Prospect Drive, Marion
When: Games every Saturday through June 4 at 8:30, 9:30, 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Another six weeks of games will resume in the fall.
To volunteer to be a buddy: Visit prospectmeadows.com/miracle-league/ for more information.
So, despite daunting fundraising goals, he worked to open an outlet for kids used to being told what they can’t do. The Kiwanis are $165,000 into a $300,000 pledge to Prospect Meadows, and raise thousands every year to make the sport free of charge to players.
With some players participating since 2019, he’s noticed improvements from players both on and off the field.
“The therapeutic value of getting out there and playing is becoming apparent now,” said Tabor.
“It really helps with their development, to be a part of society,” said Fishler, who has coached baseball for 20 years. “You always say athletics is an extension to education and getting people ready for the world to work with others. This program really does help people set goals and to be a part of society.”
But what’s more is that in a world where they often don’t fit in, this league of their own is where they feel normal, giving them a confidence that makes a difference in their lives off the field.
For these players, that’s the power of having fun.
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