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Inclusive baseball league in Independence welcomes athletes with disabilities, giving everyone a chance to shine

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- Diamond great Yogi Berra once said, "Love is the most important thing ever, but baseball is pretty good too."

One group in Independence opens its heart with every swing of the bat. When the diamond in McCoy Park comes to life, every player is equal. Variety KC Baseball Field lights up every weekend during the summer months, as Parker Higgins and others from the city's Parks Department host games in the Miracle Baseball League, where people with various disabilities get an opportunity to play ball.

Some athletes are in wheelchairs. Others have no visible disability, but they have special needs nonetheless. Each hit in the Independence Inclusive Sports Project is like an inspirational uppercut, since the effort these baseball players are giving is bigger than their bats can contain.

"I've worked two seasons so far, and I look forward to it every Saturday during the season," Higgins, the city's director of recreation, said.

Every weekend, Higgins can be found pitching to players from 16 metro families, and moments of jubilation erupt with every play, whether or not players get a hit.

"Just seeing the smiles when they come out, and they're excited to come here. They get me excited," Higgins said on Friday. "10 a.m. on a Saturday, you could be doing a bunch of other things, but I want to be here because I see how much joy it brings the kids."

Variety KC Baseball Field, which is specially-designed for adaptive baseball, has accessible bleacher seating and dugouts, as well as a special rubberized surface, which is designed to cushion most any fall. That diamond is one of two adaptive baseball fields the Kansas City Royals funded for construction back in 2013. The adaptive playground that sits just beside the ballfield has many of the same adaptive features.

"It's amazing. Absolutely amazing," Jessica Stewart, one of the league's parents, told FOX 4 News.

Stewart's daughter, Heather, plays each week in the Miracle League. Stewart says the 12-year old girl finds baseball to be therapeutic, as she contends with a social communication disorder, as well as trouble with her heart and her hearing.

"She absolutely loves coming out here. The coaches make her feel amazing. She loves playing baseball and being part of the team. She feels normal," Jessica Stewart said.

As for the athletes, Quinten Stoops, 17, is a great example of an adaptive athlete. Stoops uses a wheelchair to get around, but it doesn't prevent him from competing on the baseball field with friends and coaches he's come to admire.

"It's pretty cool because you can see that everybody can do it. Everybody can play baseball up here. It doesn't matter who you are or what you can and can't do," Stoops said.

Parents in the Miracle League say everyone goes home feeling like a champion. That`s priceless because, as one Miracle League Mom said, "The rest of the world thinks they`re different. Out here, they`re normal ballplayers."

Players from the Miracle League will play on a bigger field next week. They'll be part of an adaptive baseball event at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m., as Variety KC brings in athletes from all across the metro. You can learn more about the City of Independence Inclusive Sports Project by clicking here.