Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif. --
He has waited for this moment his entire life. Even though the world has told him the odds are against him, in this moment, he is proving them wrong. For the first time ever, he is wearing an official baseball uniform. Before he joined the team, he could be in the crowd and wear the jersey but had no need for the cleats. He could sport a baseball cap in support of his team but had never felt the weight of a batting helmet. Until today, Reed Luckino had only ever been a spectator; an outsider looking in.
Reed and his brother Nico were born only minutes apart, weighing less than two and a half pounds. At birth, they were diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and in many respects, the odds have been against them. Since then, they have been faced with the harsh reality that some milestones will never be a possibility but thanks to the Miracle League of the Desert, playing for an organized baseball team, in a real league, is a milestone they have conquered.
“The league is designed for people with special needs,” said Shannon Luckino, President of Miracle League of the Desert. “The idea is to give everyone the chance to play baseball.”
The Miracle League of the Desert held its opening day celebration at Brehm Park in Yucca Valley May 25. The League gives children the chance to play baseball who might not have the physical abilities to play in other leagues a chance to play. The League of the Desert is one of the three Miracle Leagues offered in California.
A Community Effort
The high desert community also played a part in the opening day celebration. The community lined the fences of the field to watch the game. Some of them also played a major role in the completion of the field. Donations were made from many members of the community to go towards the completion of the field. The community also participated in the game to help the baseball players.
Baseball players from Joshua Heights High School came to assist the players of the Miracle League. They were there as buddies to run the bases with each player and provide them with individual coaching and encouragement.
“I made friends with my buddy that was helping me in the game,” said Anthony Cooper, Miracle League baseball player. “He plays third base for Joshua Springs, I have seen pictures of him in the newspaper so it was cool playing with him.”
The Miracle League of the Desert is the only special needs baseball program in the high desert. Families had to drive to Palm Desert before the opening ceremony of the desert league.
“There is a need for this program here because there is a portion of the population who don’t have the ability to really do the whole sports thing,” said David Cooper, Anthony’s father. “Whether it is an organized program or an unorganized gathering, it doesn’t matter. The kids get a chance to play and actually get a chance to be a part of the team.”
A Baseball Player
“I like playing baseball a lot,” Anthony said. “I like to go hiking and fishing but I think baseball keeps me very active.”
For many players, it was their first time playing baseball.
“There are no words for the joy expressed by the children,” Shannon said. “For us to have that amount of joy, we would have to hit the lottery.”
According to Shannon, the Miracle League, to include their baseball diamond, is completely designed to meet the needs of the children. It is a rubber field designed to be a flat surface. The field was designed to be wheelchair and walker accessible, to include the dugout.
“The field is interesting, I like it,” Anthony said. “The balls bounce higher for me.”
The field is designed to meet the needs of people with wheelchairs, walkers or who have difficulty walkin. It also has lights for the children to play during the evening hours. Everything from the dugout to the outfield is designed to meet the needs of the children.
A Parent’s Dream
“Sometimes when the children are at school, they may feel a little bit left out because they can’t participate in some of the sports,” said Lee Anne Cooper, Anthony’s mother. “When they get a chance to play, there is a sense of belonging and I think it is good for the children.”
Cooper says that it is sometimes difficult for those with special needs to attend and participate in different events.
According to Shannon, local families needed a special needs-friendly field for the children to play on. It is also something the children can look forward to.
“We knew Anthony was excited because his room is usually a mess but the night before the game, he had his jersey nicely folded on a chair,” Lee Anne said. “We couldn’t help but to think, ‘oh man, this must be big.’”
The families participating are a portion of a bigger community with children who have special needs.
“There are about 1,300 students in the community who have disabilities,” Shannon said. “Some call them the invisible children because no one ever sees them. It is hard to go places with them but I want to give these children every opportunity in life.”
Members of the Miracle League try to help all of the children with special needs. They also try to help on a personal level.
“My children haven’t had the ability to participate,” Shannon said. “I want them to be able to say they are a part of a team. To many other families, their son being a baseball player is ordinary. To us, that is extraordinary. You learn to appreciate every little thing.”
According to Shannon, this program is run off of heart and soul. Not only from the board of the league but from the children.
“Before the event today my son said something to me that hit me as a mother, not a president,” Shannon said. “He looked up at me and said, ‘Guess what mom, your son is going to play baseball.’”