SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Kansas City Royals teamed with the Texas Rangers and the city of Surprise to build DreamCatcher Park, a baseball facility for children with challenging conditions. "We've partnered with the Royals and Surprise before and this, by far, is our shining moment," Rick McLaughlin, Rangers executive vice president of business operations, said. "Our intention is for everyone to enjoy baseball, and it's our responsibility to give back." The Rangers and Royals each donated $50,000 to make the park a possibility.
McLaughlin said the donation was a small way to pay back the Surprise community since welcoming the team in 2003. "We're honored to be a part of this project," he said. "This is a worthwhile investment." Saturday marked the grand opening of the park, which took five years to come to fruition. The park was designed to be player friendly. The straightaway center-field wall is 115 feet from home plate, and the bases are 50 feet apart. The field surface has a special texture designed to allow easy access for wheelchairs and rollers. The surface prevents bad hops as well. The dugouts are built wide enough to accommodate the handicapped needs of the players. And, the bathrooms and concession stands are all handicap accessible. Surprise mayor, Joan Shafer, headed the project five years ago after seeing a videotape of a similar facility. "Five years ago, we said, 'We are going to do this,'" she said to the crowd attending the grand opening and dedication of the park. "It gives me a feeling of, 'We have accomplished a lot.'" The opening day game featured two teams from the Bambino Buddy Ball / Miracle League of Arizona. The league is designed for mentally and physically disabled athletes between the ages 5-20 to compete. A 'buddy' may assist the player with fielding, batting and running the bases. Kaylee Espinoza, who has CHARGE syndrome, always wanted to play sports like her sister and brother. Saturday morning, Kaylee, wearing her Texas Rangers cap and shirt, got her opportunity to take the field at second base with her sister 'buddy,' Tayler Lemoine. "I think it's great," Tayler said. "She's always really wanted to play, and now she can and interact with the other kids." The Miracle League gives every participant an at-bat and a position in the field to play and enjoy America's pasttime. One of the other players, Alex, addressed the crowd before first pitch and echoed the other players' thoughts. "The park is great," he said. "I don't know what else to say."
Drew Davison is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.