Former Major League Baseball player and Columbia native Dan Uggla announced Thursday night, along with a group of Columbia natives, their intention to create and build a baseball park specifically designed for special needs children in Columbia.
The Miracle League of Columbia at Maury County Park is the dream of Robin Estep, who fell in love with the program through her time watching her nephew Taye Ramer participate in the Murfreesboro league.
“My nephew Taye means the world to me. He’s such a bright light to everyone,” Estep said. “I would love to see something like (Miracle League) closer to home for not only Taye, but for all the other children who could use it.”
Miracle League baseball fields are custom-designed with cushioned rubberized surfaces to help prevent injuries. The fields are completely flat to eliminate any barriers to wheelchair-bound or visually impaired players. The complexes also feature wheelchair-accessible dugouts, restrooms, concession stands and picnic pavilions.
According to Miracle League, there are currently 270 Miracle Leagues located in 46 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Australia and Mexico. To date, the Miracle League has more than 200,000 players with disabilities.
During a launch party, the group announced the cost of the facility, which includes a rubber playing surface baseball field and playground equipment to be built on the site of the Babe Ruth field at Maury County Park, would be $1.4 million. Uggla announced he would be donating $250,000 to the project.
“Coming back to where it all started, looking at the place where I played Babe Ruth; this place where I’ve come to a million times, it brings back so many memories,” Uggla said. “My brother and I have been looking for something to do to start to give back to this community. We couldn’t think of a better opportunity or organization to get involved with than this. We’re so excited to get everything going.”
Mike Uggla said despite being involved with some charities over the years and other events, this was an opportunity to make a big difference.
Putting this field at the site of the former Babe Ruth facility will not only bring nostalgia to a large number of Maury County residents, but will give a purpose to the facility which has been closed since 2010. Since the closure, the space has been available for public use, but not for organized sports.
Al Ray, Director of Maury County Parks, said the Miracle League field was exactly the kind of facility the county was waiting on in order to place something permanent at the site.
“We’re waiting to see what would be an opportunity for that area of the park. It’s been our knowledge all along that something would come along and take that space and create something that would be beneficial to the park and the community,” he said. “We didn’t push anything, we kind of waited to see. From 2010 until the day we met and this idea was proposed, we had the feeling then that opportunity had presented itself finally.”
Columbia mayor Chaz Molder said the name includes both Columbia and Maury County to signify the partnership between the two coming together for this cause.
“This is another joint partnership opportunity. We believe that whenever the city of Columbia and Maury County can partner together, then we’re all succeeding as a community and as a whole,” Molder said. “This league being located at Maury County Park, which Columbia’s Parks & (Recreation) system will be very involved in, just shows that when we work together and collaborate, the sky’s the limit.”
Estep said donations will be the key factor in making this a reality. Donation levels include naming rights to certain aspects of the field, including the playground, scoreboard, dugouts, concession stand and even the on deck circles.
Dan Uggla’s contribution was large enough to grant him the naming rights to the field, much like David Price Field in Murfreesboro, but that isn’t the reason he wanted to make this happen.
“This is the stuff that’s really cool. The kids who need help to do these kinds of things, it’s character building, loving kids, loving other people, people who are different from you,” he said. “Helping people and giving them a chance to play a game they love, but didn’t have a place to do it before is really cool.”
Private fundraising will take 12-18 months, Mike Uggla said. The group will host fundraising events beginning in the first quarter of next year, he added. Donations can be made online at columbiamiracleleague.com/donate or at First Farmers and Merchants Bank, located at 1501 James Campbell Blvd. in Columbia.