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Miracle League of San Diego puts players of all abilities in the game

Creating an opportunity for everyone to enjoy the game of baseball

Buddies are an integral part of the Miracle League experience, providing support on and off the field
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“Play Ball!” It’s a phrase that evokes images of sun shining on brilliant green baseballs fields and promises excitement at every turn on the diamond. And for 15 years, Miracle League of San Diego has made good on that promise for people with disabilities throughout San Diego County, inviting players aging from five to over 40 to experience the joy of America’s pastime not from the stands, but as part of the action. Playing in two locations — Engel Family Field in Solana Beach’s San Dieguito Park in North County and Bell Middle School to the south — the league engages hundreds of players and their families for two seasons each year with Saturdays filled with joy, inclusion, and camaraderie. 

Comprised of 22 total teams across both locations, Miracle League’s players participate in two-inning games where everyone bats and rounds the bases, and the final score is always a tie. Volunteer buddies support each player on and off the field, offering parents a rare, hands-off chance to sit back and be fans in the stands. “These are our best Saturdays,” says Lisa Pathman, whose son Riley, 23, who has cerebral palsy, has played in the league for more than ten years. “Everyone wins, and no one can leave in a bad mood after seeing the pure joy and happiness on all the baseball players’ faces and the families who, for once, are allowed to just watch and enjoy knowing our loved ones are having fun with buddies and coaches. It is the one place where everyone can just be.” An additional competitive division that plays a more traditional form of the game was added in recent years for more advanced players.  

Miracle League creates an opportunity for athletes spanning a broad range of ages and abilities to enjoy the game of baseball
Miracle League creates an opportunity for athletes spanning a broad range of ages and abilities to enjoy the game of baseball

“It’s given back to me more than I think I’ve ever given,” says Dan Engel, who was inspired to co-found the San Diego league after seeing the original Miracle League, which originated in Conyers, Georgia, featured on an episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Its founding coincided with Engel’s treatment for stage 4 melanoma, but rather than hamper his progress, it bolstered it. “Forming the entity and getting it off the ground was a lot of my personal therapy and purpose while I was battling for my life,” says Engel matter-of-factly. “It is the happiest place in San Diego,” he continues. “I’m Jewish; I call it my synagogue because we play on Saturdays. It is the place I feel spiritually connected to the world, and the community and family we’ve built is beyond extraordinary.” 

Rae-Ann LoCicero, an 11-year coach of the Angels of Engel Family Field, agrees. “I’ve coached a lot of sports with my own children, but nothing compares to Miracle League,” she says. “It changed my life.” And not just hers. LoCicero says her son, who was a longtime buddy in the league, is studying to pursue a career serving those with special needs — a direct result, according to LoCicero, of his experience with Miracle League. “The buddy program, to me, is almost as important as the players, because I believe we are nurturing philanthropic souls,” adds Engel, who says LoCicero’s experience is hardly a one-time anecdote. “We’re teaching kids at a young age that it feels really good to help someone else. If they are our future, we’ll be OK. These people give me a lot of faith in humanity.”   

Hall of Fame pitcher Trevor Hoffman and a Miracle League athlete
Hall of Fame pitcher Trevor Hoffman and a Miracle League athlete

The first pitch of the Spring ’22 season will be thrown at Engel Family Field on March 12 at 10am, and the public is welcome to cheer on these incredible athletes at this and every game for an unforgettable experience that will leave no one unmoved. “Once you come to Miracle League, you get it. That’s what being there does,” says Engel. “My mission is that every participant, whether it’s a player, a buddy, a coach, a parent, or a volunteer, walks away saying they had a great day. That’s it! And in 15 years, I don’t think we’ve ever failed on that mission.” 

On May 22, an exhibition game featuring players and buddies from every team as well as a celebrity home run derby are in the works in honor of the league’s 15-year anniversary. Check the league website for details or more information on volunteer opportunities for the Spring and Fall ’22 seasons. miracleleagueofsandiego.org

Featured Photo Buddies are an integral part of the Miracle League experience, providing support on and off the field

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