By Martie Thompson
A gloomy day on Saturday, Feb. 1 couldn’t put a damper on the excitement of Field of Dreams’ opening day, according to Chuck Forcier, one of the original founders of the league that caters to children with special needs. Additionally, this was a special opening day, since it marked the 10th anniversary of the league.
“It was chilly, but we had no rain,” Forcier said. “Everything went really well. It was probably one of our best opening days.”
Forcier pointed out that the league has seen phenomenal growth in its 10 year history: from 41 children on four teams to 198 children on 11 teams today. With registration ongoing, Forcier expects the number of children to be more than 200 before the end of the season in early May.
At Field of Dreams, children with special needs (intellectual or physical disabilities) have the opportunity to play baseball in an organized league; to wear a uniform; have their names announced; participate in the National Anthem before each game; and to be a player on an athletic team. Everyone bats. Volunteer buddies, at least one per special needs player, help with batting and rounding the bases. Some buddies are members of area youth or high school athletic teams who volunteer year after year.
Opening day buddies were students from the Bartram Trail High School softball and baseball teams. The following weekend, students from Creekside High School volunteered and over the course of the season, students from other Creeks Athletic League teams will volunteer. Forcier said that they are grateful that each weekend of the season is completely full of buddies.
Coaches are mostly local ESE teachers and the children come from all over northeast Florida to participate in Field of Dreams.
Registration is open to children in kindergarten through 12th grade. Registration is ongoing and always free. In fact, everything is free at Field of Dreams — uniforms, equipment, concessions — due to the league’s generous business partners, sponsors and spectators.
The league continues working on the construction of the boundless playground adjacent to the Field of Dreams, which is accessible to children of all ages and ability levels. Forcier said that the first phase has been completed with the $160,000 raised so far.
“Phase One includes ramps and a shade structure and creates a great centerpiece for the entire project,” Forcier said. “But we are not done. Phase Two will include accessible swings and an accessible seesaw, along with some permanently affixed musical instruments to stimulate creativity.”
Forcier said the most expensive item is the specialized rubberized surface of the playground. The total cost for the second phase of $180,000 is offset by a generous matching grant of $90,000 provided by the St. Johns County Tower Commission. Forcier said donations are actively being sought and the matching grant makes the total needed seem a bit less daunting.
“We are excited to create what we believe is a wonderful, dedicated facility for children with special needs in our area,” Forcier said. “Including the field and the playground, it is unlike any other park in the area.”
Visit www.fodbaseball.com for more information about Field of Dreams, to register your special needs child for baseball, or to make a donation for the boundless playground.
Photos courtesy Stephanie Saffles
Hayden Chadwell bats at the Field of Dreams Opening Day.