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Miracle in the making for new local baseball league

Michael Motycka couldn’t hide his excitement. Bound to a wheelchair all his life, the 21-year-old can sense when a miracle is about to happen.

He was in the right place Friday night when the Miracle League of Manasota had its official launch party at McKechnie Field.

The league will build a synthetically surfaced baseball field that will have all the amenities needed for challenged children so they can play baseball. It will be located in Longwood Park in Sarasota, not too far from the Manatee County line.

“I can’t wait. It’s a great idea,” said Motycka, who suffers from spina bifida, a spinal neural disease. “This will be my first time in a league like this and now I won’t need anyone to push me. I will be able to do it myself.”

Motycka has played in Challenger leagues since he was 5, but the grass and dirt surface makes it hard for wheelchair-bound people to move around. When the ground is wet, it is very difficult, he said.

Motycka grew up watching his older sister, Nicole Motycka, have a standout softball career at Cardinal Mooney and go on to earn All-American honors at the University of Michigan. He would love to emulate some of her talents on a field he can call his own.

Bob Mitchell, league president, said he hopes to break ground in October and have the playing surface ready for play in the spring. Its estimated cost is $1.2 million.

“There are about 14,000 kids in Sarasota and Manatee County who will be able to take advantage of this,” Mitchell said. “The field will be level, it will have a rubberized surface, and there will be no raised bases or mound. It’s totally level so everything is accessible and those kids can move on the field whether they are in wheelchairs or on crutches.”

Sarasota County officials have approved $500,000 for the project. Manatee County has said it likely won’t be able to match that number, but Mitchell says that is OK.

“The rest of the money can come from private donors,” Mitchell said. “I think Manatee hasn’t seen the depth of the program yet and will have an opportunity to contribute down the line to help our operations. There are things that are important to the league which have nothing to do with the construction, such as uniforms and equipment, and they can help with that.”

Mitchell said his organization has a lot of places to look for more money, including the Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles, all of whom have a stake in the local community.

Manatee County has a challenger league, which is played on a traditional surface.

“We are not competing for those kids. But there are kids with disabilities that can’t play on those fields because they are dirt,” Mitchell said. “Kids without sight can play on our fields without worrying about tripping over something. This gives kids with special needs an opportunity not to feel they have special needs. It can’t get better than that.”

Mitchell said Miracle League requires fences that extend only 125 feet out to center field, but that the field at Longwood Park would be 190 feet, which would allow for wheelchair softball games.

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