St. Paul park eyed as new Miracle Field site

Photo courtesy of Miracle League of MinnesotaAn effort is underway to build a new ballpark in St. Paul. However, this one is not a $545 million shrine to the national pastime like Target Field in Minneapolis or the $54 million facility the St. Paul Saints have proposed in Lowertown. This one is called Miracle Field, a $250,000 diamond that would make it possible for children with disabilities to play baseball on a team in an organized league.

Lucas Hagen, 11, has been playing baseball for the past five years in the West Metro Miracle League in Minnetonka. “We have a beautiful field at Bennett Family Park,” said Hagen, who has Down syndrome, and started with T-ball initially. “But I’ve gotten much better,” he said, “and now I hit a pitch from the coach. We have buddies who help us, and I love my buddies. They’ve helped me become a better athlete.” Hagen said he also enjoys singing the national anthem at the beginning of the game “and ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ in the final stretch. And we get treat tickets after each game. That’s also one of my favorite things.”

Now, a corner of Dunning Park is being eyed for the new facility. It would be the 13th Miracle Field built under the guidance and support of the nonprofit Miracle League of Minnesota (MLMN), but the first in either St. Paul or Minneapolis. The synthetic-turf field would be cushioned to prevent injuries. Its bases would all be flush to the ground to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices and its dugouts would be handicapped-accessible.

“For children facing physical and mental challenges, the Miracle League offers an opportunity to get out in the sunshine and enjoy playing baseball,” said Kevin Thoresen, founder and executive director of MLMN. Thoresen approached the St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation earlier this year and inquired about the “unprogrammed” space in Dunning Park along Syndicate Street, between the fenced-in Jim Kelly and Brian Peterson fields. MLMN does not purchase the land for its Miracle Fields. “We work in cooperation with city parks and recreation offices to be given the land,” Thoresen said.

“We privately raise all the money to build the field and then provide a turn-key asset for the city. We also help in developing the leagues with cities or other baseball organizations. “Community buy-in is critical for us,” Thoresen said, “not only for building the fields and their ongoing operations but for participation as well.” The disabled members of a Miracle League team are assigned “buddies” who assist them in fielding and in hitting the ball and running the bases, he said. Buddies can be schoolmates, parents, college students or “anyone who wishes to volunteer their time,” Thoresen said.

Thoresen discussed his proposal for Dunning on May 24 with the Union Park District Council’s Parks and Recreation Committee. Committee members “agreed to work with Mr. Thoresen to get the community feedback that he needs and we think is necessary before he makes a formal proposal and we make any recommendations,” said committee chair Barb Deming. Although the space in question at Dunning is “unprogrammed,”

Deming said, meaning there are no regularly scheduled activities there, it is “the last such space in Dunning Park and it’s used a lot by neighborhood residents for pickup games of soccer and the like. Do residents want to give that up, even for such a worthy cause? We’ll find out.”

Thoresen also met on May 29 with the Lexington-Hamline Community Council. “We’re excited about this potential resource for the city,” said Karen Randall, who chairs the board of that neighborhood association. “We have some concerns about providing alternative space for Lex-Ham residents currently using that area of Dunning Park for a variety of activities.” However, Randall added, the Lexington-Hamline Council will work with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, neighbors, Thoresen and other local organizations those address those concerns. Thoresen has also met with the Dunning Booster Club, which runs a variety of baseball programs at Dunning, and with representatives of the Highland Little League and Highland-Groveland Recreation Association. “Everybody agreed that a Miracle Field would be a great fit for Dunning Park because of our existing programs, its central location and parking,” said Jim Kelley, a member of the Dunning Booster Club. “The Highland folks said they would send some buddies over to the Miracle Field at least once a week.”

If Thoresen succeeds in garnering neighborhood support for his plan, the city will take a closer look at it, according to Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Brad Meyer. “Even though (Thoresen) will be raising the money to construct the Miracle Field, he’ll still have to work with our design and construction division to work up the plans and sign some agreements about who’s responsible for what after the field is up and running,” Meyer said. The City Council will also have to sign off on the plan.

More information on the Miracle League is available at www.miracleleaguemn.com