Batters Swing for Fences, Funds for Miracle League at Home Run Derby

Organizers hoped to raise around $6,000 at this year's derby.

DULUTH, Minn.- Sunday felt like summer’s finally starting, and that means the start of baseball season. And no one knows that better than the players on the Twin Ports Miracle League, kicking off the season with a home run derby at Harrison Park in West Duluth.

There was only one thing on the minds of batters like Bailey Williams Sunday: “Smack it hard.”

And with each swing, excitement built for the season to begin for the Twin Ports’ only adaptive baseball program —  the Miracle League.

“These kids look forward to it year-round,” said Emily Ranta, Executive Director for the Downtown Branch of the Duluth YMCA.

“They start pulling their jerseys out a month in advance they get all their stuff ready to go a lot of these kids will show up an hour early for games just to be at the baseball field and see their friends interact with the other families,” she said.

Sunday’s Home Run Derby was a battle of the batters, with points awarded based on whether the ball hits the first or second fence or is out of the park, off 10 pitches.

“Practicing my home runs. And I hit it over the park and I got 3 points, and another 3 points that’ll be 15 points,” a longtime Miracle Leaguer, Quinn said. “It’s a lot.”

Children ages 4 thru 19 with physical and/or mental disabilities who’ve been playing in the Miracle League for years got to compete with high school and college athletes and members of the community.

“A lot of these kids are pretty good so gotta be sharp,” said UMD Football Wide Receiver, Cooper Yeary.

Yeary played in the derby with his fellow football teammates, Logan Graetz and Marcus Glodowski.

“We think we did pretty good I think these 2 could step up their game a little bit, we’ll see how they do in the upcoming rounds but I’m the clubhouse leader right now and I’m excited for the next at-bats for sure,” Yeary said.

Last year the derby raised about $5,000 for the Miracle League season, which starts next week. The hope was that this year’s run got them a thousand more.

“It’s always important to give back to special organizations like this,” said Graetz, UMD Quarterback. “These kids don’t have the same opportunities that a lot of us had so if someone in our shoes comes out and shows them just a good time it’s special for these kids for sure.”

But according to Ranta, it also opened others’ eyes to how much the opportunity to play ball in an accessible setting means to the kids.

“[College and high school athletes] are getting to see how important their game is to everyone and are getting a chance to really see how it impacts the 8 weeks that these kids get to play out in the summer on a field that’s meant for them,” she said.

Kids like Bailey Williams, batting in her first home run derby. “I play in the Miracle League every year, in the summer. Every Saturday morning, because it’s my favorite sport, is baseball. I like baseball.”
Hitting the ball on a tee from her wheelchair, a chorus of cheers power each of Bailey’s swings.

“Like when we have all the buddies out and the volunteers in the field with us,” she said. “And hitting the ball off the tee and the bat and ball I like.”

And no matter who has the better arm, everyone’s a winner.

“Nice job Quinn, that’s all you buddy!” they cheered, which Quinn followed with a fist in the air, “yeeeees!”

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