When 21-year-old Jacob Stein walks up to home plate at the Mays Family Field of Dreams, he doesn’t see the look on the pitcher’s face, the bright color of his own Dodger blue jersey, or even his opponents in the outfield. Jacob only feels the neck of his baseball bat as he listens for his Grandpa José Corasco to say “swing,” and then he lets it rip.
Since 2007 the Miracle League of San Antonio has given players like Stein the opportunity to pick up a bat and play America’s pastime.
Located adjacent to the Nelson Wolff Stadium in the city’s West Side on a specialized cushioned turf, the Mays Family Field of Dreams allows Stein, who was diagnosed with Norrie disease, a genetic disorder which causes total blindness, and other players of all ages and abilities to take to the field.
Stein, a lover of not only baseball but also karaoke, regularly finishes each game with a celebratory sing-along to the popular 1999 Alan Jackson song, “Pop A Top.”
“I like playing baseball because I like hanging out with friends and playing with my dad and grandpa. … Without baseball, weekends would be harder because then I would have nothing to do at home,” Stein said.
Miracle Leagues can be found in major cities across the country, but San Antonio’s can be attributed to Michael Miller, a local attorney who wanted to give back after being told by doctors that his daughter might be born with Down syndrome. After additional testing three months later, the results came back negative and his daughter was born without a disability.
While raising his healthy young daughter, Michael came across an HBO “Real Sports” news story about the first Miracle League in a suburb of Atlanta.
At the time, Miller was managing famous local boxer Jesse James Leija’s career, and Miller approached him and said, “We’ve got to do something.” Leija became an early supporter of Miller’s idea and helped raise more than $1 million to build the complex.
Leija continues to support the Miracle League by hosting an annual golf tournament which this year takes place Tuesday, Oct. 26 at the Brackenridge Park Golf Course.
During the planning process, around 2005, the Rev. Buckner Fanning offered Miller an acre of property for the league at The Buckner Fanning School at Mission Springs in North Bexar County.
Miller politely rejected.
“The North Side will go to the South Side before the South Side will go to the North Side. I want to put (the field) where it’s easy for the East, West, and South Side to get to,” Miller said.
“A lot of parents will tell us their kids will put on these baseball jerseys on a Tuesday or a Thursday, hoping that it’s Saturday. As long as you’re putting it on and you’re looking forward to Saturday, that’s all that matters.”
The league, which started with about 25 players, now consists of 165, filling 6 teams. Games are played on Saturdays during the spring and fall baseball seasons.
Playing for a team costs nothing, and Miller boasts about the league’s inclusiveness.
Teams include players who are wheelchair users, as well as players with Down syndrome, autism, and cognitive disabilities.
“You’re told not to deal with kids that are younger than 6 or older than 18, but I’ve got 3- and 4-year-olds. I’ve got participants in their 50s. So my mantra is ‘the answer is yes and we will figure everything else out,’” Miller said.
Jacob Stein’s mother, Ruby Stein, is the head coach of the Leija Dodgers and helps set the lineup every week.
Stein pointed out what is known as the “bell patrol,” a group of volunteers and coaches who ring bells at each base in sequence so Jacob has a sense of direction.
“My kid just sat at home. As a mom I felt bad because my husband didn’t have things to do, sports-wise, with my son,” Stein recalled.
Now he does. Jimmy Stein stands with his son when the Dodgers are fielding, offering visual cues – as Jacob’s grandfather does when he is batting.
“And now here we are every Saturday,” Ruby Stein said.
Although the Miracle League field in San Antonio is the first of its kind here, a recently announced project by local developer and philanthropist Gordon Hartman plans to build a fully accessible $3 million sports complex at Morgan’s Wonderland in the Northeast Side.
The facilities will provide 8,000 square feet of shaded space, including a baseball diamond.
On Oct. 5 against the Mays Cardinals, Jacob crushed the ball during both of his trips to the plate at Mays Family Field, including one he hit on the first swing. After rounding all the bases Jacob did a dance on home plate as both teams cheered him on.