by Jackson Kelley
I felt awkward, unsure and hot standing in the Texas afternoon sun by the first base dugout. The coach seemed nice as he gave me a firm handshake and a reassuring smile, but I knew this would be unlike any baseball season I had ever experienced. The coach paired me with a spunky kid named Josiah and told us to warm up in the outfield.
We chatted and joked before the announcer instructed us to remove our hats for the national anthem. One by one, our opponents took their turn at bat. When the balls came our way, I would scoop them up, toss them to Josiah, and he would throw to short stop to cut off the runner. But as in most Miracle League games, every batter scored. A World Series home run can’t compare to the emotion and celebration of a home run in the Miracle League, a baseball league for kids of all abilities.
Josiah and I were excited when it was finally our turn at bat. He had a determined look on his face as he took his position at home plate. He missed the first pitch. I suggested he choke up on the bat. It worked! He connected, and the ball flew over the pitcher’s head. Josiah threw down his bat. I grabbed the handles of his purple wheelchair, and we took off towards first base. The smile that spread across Josiah’s face as we rounded the bases made me realize the true meaning and impact of community service and my ability to make a difference in the lives of others.
I have had the privilege of serving as an Angel in the Outfield volunteer for the past four years. The fact that I could have been a team member rather than a volunteer hit me hard on that first day when I was pushing Josiah towards home plate. Born 16 weeks early weighing just a pound and a half, doctors told my parents that I had a 50 percent chance of survival, and if I did survive, that I had a 50 percent chance of vision and hearing loss, mental retardation and cerebral palsy. While I don’t remember my four-month stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, multiple surgeries or years of occupational, speech and physical therapy, I do know that few things in life have come easy for me. Riding a bike, hitting a baseball and manipulating tiny LEGO pieces were sources of tremendous frustration, but my parents encouraged, pushed, persuaded and cheered me on as I worked through and past those obstacles.
Because of the challenges my preterm birth presented, I have often struggled with self-confidence and doubted my intellectual and physical abilities. My time with Josiah and other children with medical and neurological impairments in the Miracle League has helped me realize that I should not be ashamed of my challenges. I should be proud of all I have accomplished and use my experience to help others. In the Miracle League, the joy baseball brings to the players, parents and volunteers is something many athletes and sports fans seek but rarely find. I have realized that it is not about the batting average, number of home runs or the final score. It is about acceptance, equality and the meaning and purpose tucked inside every life.