Days before the ceremonial first pitch of the third annual I Play for Slade Memorial Tournament, coach and tournament organizer Mike Davis could barely contain his excitement. He was not the only one counting down the days to Friday's big announcement, either.
"These kids deserve a field to play on," Davis told the Daily Light in regards to The Miracle League of Ellis County on Wednesday.
Well, they got it. And, with a little additional community funding, the first-ever Miracle League-friendly field in Ellis County will be alongside the other baseball diamonds at The Optimist Park in Waxahachie.
The Miracle League of Ellis County previously held a ground blessing at a site planned for the complex on Sept. 22, 2017. The Waxahachie YMCA and The Avenue Church donated the land.
But, for a league built on the foundation of inclusion regardless of physical limitations, the opportunity for the league's players to compete alongside those of the Waxahachie Youth Baseball Association was too good to pass up.
Volentine Field and the Miracle League are a perfect match.
Johnson Baseball Group, LLC, which operates the baseball fields at The Optimist Park, worked with the Miracle League of Ellis County board of directors to make the dream of having a home field become a reality.
Dave McFadden, president of The Miracle League of Ellis County, said the organization is "very excited" to have made the arrangement with Johnson Baseball Group, The Optimist and Waxahachie Youth Baseball.
"Starting in the fall, during the fall season of our Miracle League play, this will be our permanent home," McFadden added to a round of applause. He also noted there are now over 300 Miracle League fields across the globe.
The approximate cost to convert the current natural-grass playing surface into a handicap-friendly field that can be used for Miracle League play, as well as WYBA tee ball, is about $150,000. The entire project is estimated to come in around $200,000-225,000 — far less than the initially planned complex north of downtown Waxahachie.
The Miracle League of Ellis County was also chosen by the I Play for Slade Foundation as the benefactors of the annual tournament. The foundation has raised over $60,000 for Campfire Creek and Scott Dorsett over the first two years of hosting a youth baseball tournament.
This year's I Play for Slade Memorial Tournament brought over 70 select baseball teams to Waxahachie.
The two-day tournament is held each year in May in memory of Slade Russo, who was a 13-year-old Palmer ballplayer killed in an ATV accident. Funds are raised through a combination of tournament fees, donations, and raffles.
Before the first batter took the box Friday night, Steve Russo, Slade's father, spoke to the throng of onlookers. He first thanked Mike Davis, Bryan Johnson, and Chim Curry, and then the community at-large.
"I also want to thank all of you for coming," Steve said. "Every year, Mike and I don't know if we can outdo ourselves but just look at this Friday night crowd. I think that answers it. For us to be able to team up with The Miracle League, it is a God thing. God put it together. You guys have been with us since day one, and I can't wait to get this field ready, and all of us play here."
"I have only watched one baseball game this year. You would think being the third year that things would start to get better but it has been a tough year," Steve continued as his emotions took over. "I can't wait for this weekend. You can't know what this means to my family and to have this kind of support in this community. It is what gets us through every day."
He added, "let's just play some baseball."