By Martie Thompson
On a chilly but beautifully clear Saturday morning, Feb. 4, umpire George Vancore yelled “Play ball!” and the Field of Dreams baseball league’s games were underway on Opening Day. The Field of Dreams Baseball League is a voluntary organization that provides a safe ADA certified facility where special needs children of all ages (beginning with kindergarten) can play baseball for free and be an active part of a thriving athletic association.
“The day couldn’t have been better,” Vancore said. “The kids were excited, all the families were there, the Knights of Columbus were in full regalia, and you could smell the hot dogs being cooked at the concession stand.”
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. Vancore said the number of participants this year so far is 210, spread across 12 teams.
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 and sponsors that cover the $98 required to field a player for the season.
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. The Bartram Trail High School baseball team and softball team continued their tradition of serving as Opening Day buddies this year.
Every Saturday for 11 weeks (spread over 14 weeks due to school holidays), six games of two innings each that last approximately one hour and 15 minutes are played. The National Anthem is played before each game. All players have their name announced and everyone bats. Vancore said the league accommodates all types of special needs, from blind children to those in wheelchairs and walkers. Coaches are mostly local ESE teachers and the children come from all over northeast Florida to participate in Field of Dreams.
Vancore invites everyone to come out to witness the special atmosphere at Field of Dreams.
“We want you to see the smiles on the kids’ faces — and the positive atmosphere with no yelling,” he said.
For more information about Field of Dreams or to register, visit www.fodbaseball.com or visit the league’s Facebook page, “FieldofDreamsBaseballStJohns.”
Photos courtesy Beverly Slough