Baseball program brings children with special needs together

Published: October 10, 2006 | 4899th good news item since 2003

Gerardo Rojas let everyone know he’d be pitching as soon as he walked onto the grounds of Harlingen Field.

“You’ll finally see me on the pitcher’s mound,” Rojas, 12, said.

Rojas, who is autistic, joined about 25 other children with disabilities Saturday in the Miracle Kids Super Baseball Event sponsored by Valley Baptist Health System.

Waiting for the Little Astros vs. Little Rangers game to start, Rojas got a little antsy.

“I’ve already waited,” he said to his buddy for the day, a Texas Youth Commission volunteer.

Rojas’ mother, Leticia Padilla, said her son was reacting more positively than the last time he participated in the baseball event.

“He was really upset about not being able to pitch,” she said. “He just walked right off the field. But he looks super excited today, he used to be afraid of everyone.”

Rojas, of La Feria, is a big fan of baseball and told his mother how excited he was about participating in the Miracle Kids of South Texas game, she said.

“He just loves to be on that mound,” Padilla said. “He wanted to wear a uniform today.”

The first Miracle League baseball program was formed in Atlanta in 1998. The Valley Baptist Outpatient Rehabilitation Program — which treats special-needs children — brought the idea to the Rio Grande Valley in 2002 and the Miracle Kids of South Texas was formed.

The organization has been sponsoring sporting events for special-needs children since then.

Once Saturday’s game began, with boys and girls on each team, Gabby Torres made the day’s first homerun.

“Go Gabby! Go!” her mother and brothers shouted.

Torres, 10, was one of the first participants to join the baseball game when the program was brought to Harlingen, according to her mother, Norma Torres.

“We’re very grateful they have this for the children with special needs,” Torres said. “Gabby really enjoys it.”

After running across home plate, Torres, who has Down syndrome, danced along with the music played over the speakers.

“She knew what we were coming for because she got her baseballs ready to have the players sign,” Torres said. “This is their day and there’s no loser, everyone’s a winner.”

Former Houston Astros pitcher J.R. Richard and Rafael Santana, the shortstop for the New York Mets’ 1986 World Series championship team, greeted the children and signed autographs. The former professional baseball players were in Harlingen to participate in a youth baseball clinic that was at Harlingen Field on Saturday.

Seven-year-old Nathaniel Bridgeman of Harlingen got the greatest gift for his birthday, his parents said: the chance to play this favorite sport.

“He’s super excited about getting the opportunity to play and meet the professional players,” Angie Bridgeman said. “This is just too special of an opportunity for him.”

Activities like these keep Coakley Middle School sixth-grader Eric Factor’s spirits high, his mother Liana Soliz said.

“There’s not many things for these kids to do,” she said. “It’s a great organization and I couldn’t wait until Eric could get involved.”

Factor, who is in a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy, was led by one of the Texas Youth Commission teenagers who acted as “buddies” to the players who couldn’t throw a ball or swing a baseball bat, said Brian Borchardt, VBHS senior director of development.

Running toward home base with his buddy for the third time, Rojas shouted, “I love this game of baseball!”

Players were given medals for their participation and treated to a meet-and-greet with the former professional baseball players.

“I enjoy sharing my time with these people who need our support,” Santana said in-between posing for photos and signing baseballs. “Every time I get a chance to give my support I do.”

Published in Life, Miracle League
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