Ripken, Royals make baseball more accessible
Charitable effort produces baseball field for children with special needs
KANSAS CITY -- Natalie Blakemore's doctor delivered her a horrifying message nearly 12 years ago.
He said to her: "Natalie, your son is never going to run and play like every other child. He's never going to sit up. He's never going to talk."
At the time that floored Blakemore, whose son Zachary -- then 2 1/2 years old, now 14 -- has Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease.
However, this doctor will be proved wrong, thanks to the Royals and Royals Charities, in partnership with Variety Children's Charity of Greater Kansas City and the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation.
On Wednesday, the Royals helped reveal a baseball field and a general park for children with special needs in Independence, Mo. A similar project will be implemented in Olathe, Kan.
"My son will have the opportunity to play. He will play baseball like everyone else, and he will play on that playground like everybody else," said Blakemore, the founder of Unlimited Play, an organization that focuses on building parks accessible for children with disabilities.
Royals chairman/owner David Glass, Royals president Dan Glass, current Royals Lorenzo Cain and Michael Mariot, and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. were among those attending the opening of the park in Independence. The event featured 30 minutes of speeches from those closely involved in the project and 30 minutes of play on the newly designed McCoy Park by the approximately 40 children with special needs in attendance.
"It's great to have kids out there and just put a smile on their face and get them active and let them be a part of something," Mariot said. "It's just fun to be there."
Proceeds from the 2012 All-Star Game events in Kansas City made the development of the parks possible.
"These things are being built, and you're patient for them to get finished, but then when you arrive and you see the facilities and you see these kids it just makes you want to think, 'What else I can do?' You want to do more, because this is as good as it get," David Glass said.
McCoy Park sits near Highway 24 and Delaware in Independence, while Olathe Miracle League field will be located within the College Boulevard Activity Complex.
"You can't ask for anything more than the opportunity to make a difference in someone's life, and those of us who have the opportunity to do that would be foolish to waste it," David Glass said.
When the field in Olathe is completed, it will be the 21st of its kind that the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has built.
"We didn't intend by forming the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to build fields; we just kind of got into it because we saw the need," Ripken said. "Once we started building these fields there was an excitement of seeing the drawings, there was an excitement of seeing place under construction, but the greatest excitement, no doubt, was when the kids were playing on it."
The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation hopes to have around 100 adaptive fields by 2016.
"The beauty of it is sneak back two weeks or three weeks after this and just peek at it," Ripken said. "I get a great joy in seeing how the community receives it and seeing how it's being used and the enjoyment on the kids' faces."
Jackson Alexander is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.