Most Minnesotans know former Twins player Harmon Killebrew for his impeccable batting average—but his accomplishments off the field are just as noteworthy. His charitable spirit inspired the Miracle League, a baseball league for young children with special needs, which launched in Georgia in 1997. When it expanded to Minnetonka in 2007, its opening day was one of the last events that Killebrew attended before his passing. If he could see just how far the West Metro Miracle League (WMML) has come since that first pitch, surely he would be smiling.
The Miracle League was founded on the idea that “every child deserves to play baseball,” WMML president Tim Hawley says. The organization now has 250 fields across 42 states, Canada and Mexico. When it arrived in Minnetonka, Killebrew stepped up to the plate, figuratively, and Hawley says that it was an honor to work with him. To thank him, the WMML named its field after the beloved player and played its first ball game at the Harmon Killebrew Miracle Field at Bennett Family Park in 2008.
“It’s another way that this iconic figure in the community lives on,” Hawley says. The league has grown from just 25 players playing on a dirt field in 2007 to 175 kids spread across three different leagues in the 2014 season.
Hawley’s connection to the WMML is both professional and personal. His daughter Reilly, 12, was one of the league’s original players. Hawley is also the vice president of Dairy Queen, which has been the Minnesota chapter’s primary sponsor since WMML’s lake-area founding.
“The Miracle League is for kids who, deep inside their soul, just want to be a kid,” Hawley says. “It allows families who may not otherwise have this experience to have the experience.”
Perhaps the most noteworthy part of the WMML is its buddy system, something that Hawley’s other two children, 17-year-old Maddie and 15-year-old Bennett, have been involved in since the beginning.
Each volunteer is paired with a WMML player and is asked to be his or her buddy on the field each game. Buddies play the game as a pair. Says Hawley, “The chemistry between these volunteers and kids is inspirational… It’s a very inclusive, heartwarming experience to see this generation being able to buddy with another kid and [see past] his or her disability and focus on the fun of baseball.”
Spencer Gregerson, a volunteer with the league, agrees. Spencer and his younger brother Sam are co-directors and co-announcers, and spend each game on the field, megaphone in hand. They’ve been involved with the league since 2007, when Sam and a group of his friends introduced Spencer to WMML. Now, Spencer says the duo aims to make the day fun for both the kids and the parents. “It’s exciting to see them excited,” he says.
Summer 2014 was 7-year-old Brennan Riley’s second year with the WMML. A friend introduced the program to him and his family, and Brennan’s dad Scott jumped at the opportunity. “I love seeing him smile and light up that way, just being involved with teammates,” Scott says.
WMML’s focus is on fun. “No matter what the disability is, it is all about creating smiles and stories,” he says. “And having that child and their parent see them playing baseball.”
Bennett Hawley with Matthew Mueller (left), Reilly Hawley batting with volunteer, Mitch McGannon (right).
The WMML season runs from the beginning of May through the end of June. For more information on how to get involved in the 2015 season, either as a player or a volunteer, visit westmetromiracle league.org.