Miracle League boasts star power on, off field

Baseball season is in full swing nationwide, but only one local league is composed entirely of stars who have won every game in its 12 year history.

Impossible? Not for the Miracle League based in Pembroke Pines on a special field where disabilities are turned right-side up and every player swings and hits, then runs, slides, rolls or is carried champion-style across home base.

“Yer safe . . . yer safe . . . yer safe . . . !” yells veteran umpire Wade Berstler one player after the other, amid enthusiastic cheers from scores of fans who pack the bleachers.  

Sponsored primarily by Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital (JDCH) through Memorial Healthcare System (MHS), the Miracle League will wrap up on Friday its 2018 season at Rose G. Price Park with a World Series Game and a special closing ceremony that is open to the public. 

“There’s only one rule here; just have fun,” said coach Mario Salceda, who is by day the Administrator of Memorial Physicians Group, a network of more than 180 highly skilled Memorial Healthcare System-employed physicians.

Salceda and co-coach Frank Marquez, of BSN Sports, founded the Miracle League in 2006. The City of Pembroke Pines provided the space for the custom-designed field made of cushioned rubber that is mobility device friendly, with wheelchair accessible dugouts, a totally flat surface, and enough wattage to replicate daylight.

MHS supplies uniforms, equipment and other important needs.

Back then, opening night drew 10 players with varying disabilities, Salceda said. At this year’s season opener in late August, nearly 50 players filled the special league’s roster and, as usual, an equal number of student athletes from Charles W. Flanagan High School were on hand to link as “buddies” with each player. The teen volunteers help the players whack at balls, advance to bases and rush to home base — no matter what it takes.

Since 2011, heavy hitter Kahlil Pasquale, who labels the league “crazy cool," has been both a player and a buddy.

“Every Friday I come here. It’s my appointment,” Kahlil said. “The field gives an opportunity for special needs people to play sports and I can really say that we always have a good time.”

The 2018 season’s closing game, 7 p.m. November 2, will feature plenty of ceremony, food and music. But it will likely come too soon for players and one of the league’s biggest fans, Lotsy Dotsy (Linda Herbert). Wearing her signature red nose and billowing Miracle League uniform, MHS’s 32-year Chief Resident Clown has seen players blossom on the field.

“Everything about the Miracle League fills my heart,” she said.

For Sean MacLean who started playing at age 11 and now sports a young man’s beard, getting to dance with Lotsy at the games and wearing his own uniform emblazoned with Joe DiMaggio’s Children’s Hospital gives him pride and purpose.

“I put my head on my home run. I look straight to the center (field) and I aim for winning,” he said.