Posted on Monday May 6, 2013
A Real Life “Field of Dreams”
Friendly Wheels, Issue 63
Featuring Eric Rutherford, Director of Bridgeport Township’s Parks and Recreation
Who would have thought that a springtime daydream could turn into a real life “field of dreams?” That is exactly what happened when Eric Rutherford, Director of Bridgeport Township’s Parks and Recreations Department, began daydreaming about golf while maintaining the Bridgeport softball fields in preparation for the 2007 season.
“I was working in the fields on the first day of beautiful spring weather, daydreaming about golf and relaxation, when I noticed students from the nearby Millett Center coming out to the playground,” Eric said. “They all had varying levels of disability — some with wheelchairs or walkers — and even with the help of aides, they were struggling to get to the field.”
Eric immediately felt bad for daydreaming about golf when there were students who could barely get to the nearby playground, and felt there must be something he could do to help. Shortly after, he read about The Miracle League in a magazine, and decided Bridgeport Township needed its own field of dreams.
The Miracle League is a charitable organization that believes “every child deserves a chance to play baseball.” Since its start in Rockdale, Ga. in 1997, the league has grown to more than 250 organizations, servicing more than 200,000 children and young adults with disabilities nationwide.
After four years of applying for grants and collecting donations to raise the $1.25 million required for such a large project, Eric and a team of volunteers launched The Great Lakes Bay Miracle League in June of 2011.
“Bridgeport is a great choice for a field like this, because it is centrally located and can serve many cities in and around the Great Lakes Bay Region,” Eric said. “We also wanted the field to be near other baseball and softball fields so the kids feel included — we didn’t want to segregate them from other teams.”
The field at Bridgeport’s Frank N. Andersen Recreational Complex features a rubberized surface, with bases painted on to eliminate barriers for children with mobility challenges. Each team member is paired with an adult or child volunteer, called “buddies,” who help them bat and run the bases.
Though Eric is a self proclaimed “baseball guy,” he is excited to offer other sports and events as well. “We want to continue to let the program grow organically as we add more volunteers and players, but we are always looking for opportunities to expand beyond baseball,” Eric said. “We will be introducing a tennis program this fall and have plans to offer bowling, and we are looking into options for soccer as well.”
Eric is looking forward to the GLB Miracle League’s 3rd season, beginning May 11th, and expects about 15 newly registered players. “It is amazing to see the excitement on their faces during their first game,” Eric said.