For 14 years, athletes with special needs have taken the field at Mt. Greenwood Park for a memorable day of baseball.
They hit a ball off a tee and round the bases in front of cheering fans, as if they’re a Big Leaguer.
The latest edition of Miracles Happen Baseball took place on June 22 at Miracle Field, located on the west side of the park.
About 50 players participated, according to founder Katie Kettering, and she heaped praise on the many volunteers who helped—as well as Mother Nature for providing good weather.
“Everything just went perfectly,” Kettering said. “The kids played for two hours. Everything went great. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.”
Kettering, of Mt. Greenwood, helped start the game in 2005. One of her sons, Charlie, 21, has Down syndrome and is a longtime participant.
The game was held twice a year for many years before using a one-game format, but Kettering said in preparing to celebrate the start of its 15th year, Miracles Happen will be held again this fall.
Played on a field featuring an all-weather surface that is built specifically for people with special needs, Miracles Happen has the atmosphere of an all-star game.
Players of all ages are guided by volunteers called “buddies,” and they are announced over a public-address system as they come to the plate. As the crowd roars, they take a swing at the ball, then go from base to base.
Since 2017, the game has been dubbed the Crosstown Classic, an ode to the Cubs-White Sox rivalry. Players can pick a blue shirt for the Cubs or black for the Sox, which adds to the fun.
“The kids really enjoy picking their favorite team,” Kettering said. “Like in T-ball, everybody wins. Nobody loses.”
In October 2005, the first game featured about 25 players, Kettering said. The game has drawn as many as 70 participants, and Kettering loves seeing new players.
She hopes parents of young players come to meet other families of players with special needs and learn about more opportunities for their children.
“The families that come are just super,” Kettering said. “Word has spread. So, we’re getting more and more new families.”
Billy Quinn, 15, of Mt. Greenwood, has volunteered for five years. His mother, Deborah, is friends with Kettering, and he’s a friend of Charlie Kettering. He asks his buddies, the players he guides, about their interests, such as what their favorite song is, and will give them high-fives.
Quinn, a Marist High School student who attended St. Catherine Elementary School in Oak Lawn, said he’s grown to recognize players from past years. He loves seeing them have a chance to shine on the diamond.
“It’s a great feeling to watch them play. It’s nice to have them feel like they belong to a nice little team,” Quinn said. “It’s just great to watch. It’s great to help out. It makes me feel like I’m giving back.”
Kettering said she’s proud that some of the young buddies will volunteer for the first time as a way to earn service hours, but then they return the next year just because they enjoyed their first experience.
She teamed up with close friend Nancy Cranston, whose son Danny has special needs, to host the first game, and two other Cranston children, Jake and Kevin, have served as the public-address announcer. This year, Nancy’s husband, Rob, handled those duties, with Kevin making a guest appearance.
Kettering said she is grateful to the White Sox, who manage the field, for providing giveaway for players, as well as to officials from Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, which is adjacent to the field, for keeping its building open to provide shelter if needed.
She said friends Mary Sullivan and Angie Torres have also been vital to the effort.
Three other friends, Len and Joan Zielinski and Mo Walsh, provide amenities for the day, Kettering said.
“All I have to do is text them the date,” she said, “and they show up.”
The Father Perez Knights of Columbus Council 1444, located in Mt. Greenwood, also provides volunteers, and Kettering said she is working with them to host the next game. No date has been set, but it will likely have an Oktoberfest them and feature other activities for participants.
For now, she loves that the Miracles Happen game provides mid-day fun for players.
As for the rest of the day, she said, the whole family can relax.
“We get them nice and tired for their parents,” Kettering quipped. “They have a great day.”
For more information on Miracles Happen Baseball, email Kettering at firstname.lastname@example.org.