NORMAL — Uncle Bill's dream will become reality on Saturday for 82 people who use wheelchairs or walkers, are sight- or hearing-impaired or have a developmental disability.
"It's pretty emotional for me to go out there to see dad's dream come true," said Mike Wright of Bloomington.
His father — the late Bill Wright, who owned Uncle Bill's Self Storage in Normal — founded Miracle League of Central Illinois in 2009 to allow children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities play baseball.
His dream was for the league and its players to have their own field made of a synthetic surface to make it easier for all players — especially those who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes — to get around.
Uncle Bill's Miracle Field opens at noon Saturday behind The Corn Crib, 1000 W. Raab Road, Normal. Miracle League games are scheduled for 1 and 2:30 p.m.
"Bill's vision is finally going to happen and it's so exciting," said league board member and volunteer coordinator Tracy Patkunas.
"This will make it easier for kids in wheelchairs and walkers to get around," said league player Abbie Knudsen, 10, of Bloomington, who is blind in her left eye and has limited vision in her right eye.
"I think it's pretty awesome," said her twin brother, Tommie, a player who has cerebral palsy and autism.
Bill Wright died in 2012.
"He would have been so excited," said Mike Wright, a league board member. "My sister (Amy Wright, 47) has disabilities. You go through a lot of struggles. But I see the dream coming true for Amy and all the players."
In Miracle League, baseball rules are altered to ensure games are fun. The biggest difference is that each player is paired with a buddy.
For example, Tommie bats one-handed and runs wearing a leg brace, but can't catch a ball. So his buddy catches it for him and then hands the ball to Tommie to throw in, explained his mother, Tera Knudsen.
Abbie bats with the help of a buddy using a tee or a ball that emits sound. Abbie runs with a sight cane and tries to catch ground balls, but her buddy catches fly balls for her.
"We were looking four years ago for something sports-related that they could participate in," Tera Knudsen said. "We heard about Uncle Bill's, watched one game and the kids fell in love with it. Knowing that they can participate is an amazing feeling for them. They're always asking when it's going to be Sunday."
"I think the Miracle League is a good thing to do for kids who are handicapped," Abbie said.
"It's a good experience," Tommie said.
Games had been played at a McLean County PONY Baseball field near the airport and games so far this summer were to be played at Fairview and Shepard parks, Wright said. But rain and wet conditions mean that Saturday will be opening day for the season.
Heartland Community College provided land for the new field north of The Corn Crib. The field, a fence, scoreboard, bleachers and a sidewalk leading to the field have cost $500,000, Wright said. Donations came from a variety of places, including $150,000 from State Farm.
Wright hopes to raise another $75,000 to $100,000 for restrooms and a concession area.
But now the focus is on Saturday.
"Dad would have been so excited for the kids and the parents," Wright said. "Amy will throw out the first ball.
"For me, the lesson of this is you can make a difference if someone is willing to have a dream first."