EASTLAKE, Ohio - Saturday was opening day at Lake Health Miracle Park, a unique project to give kids with special needs the chance to play baseball.
The new park, in the shadow of the Lake County Captains ballpark, was the idea of Mark Rantala, the Director of the Lake County Port and Economic Development Authority.
Rantala said he heard about a similar park in Findlay, Ohio and thought there should be one like it closer.
"I did a sketch on a little piece of yellow paper and I came out here and stepped it off and said it will fit here if we get the captains to give us 26 parking spaces. The Captains gave us 26 parking spaces," said Rantala.
The idea was pitched to the Miracle League of Lake County, where Judy Moran says not only did the Captains allow them to have the 26 parking spaces, but no one she approached to help pay for the $1.2 million project ever turned her down.
"We have made numerous presentations together and no one has ever denied us, no one has ever said no because its such a good, heart-warming project," said Moran.
The payoff on Saturday was heartwarming for the organizers, volunteers, players and their parents.
"It's fun to see my daughter get to participate in something she watches from the stands all the time," said Brad Rohl of Thompson, who says his daughter watches her twin brother play baseball and can now play the game herself.
The new field has a special rubberized surface that is friendly to wheelchairs and walkers.
Players are assigned volunteers who are with them on the field and as they round the bases.
"All smiling faces. It's a very supportive, non-judgmental environment and it's just wonderful to see, yes," said Tiffany Lovett, whose son Jeffrey was playing on Saturday.
In addition to the ball field, the park includes a playground that is also friendly to kids with special needs, but is open to all kids.
"It shows how good this county is as a place to do business, in which to live, and we just thought, as the port authority we are shaping the future of Lake County and this was an opportunity to do just that," said Rantala.
Moran said anybody who would like for their child to participate in the baseball league can call the Miracle League of Lake County.