A field of dreams and miracles
Jerry Bruce Hennon brings a whole new meaning to giving a half-hearted effort on the baseball field.
The 10-year-old veteran player with the Miracle League of Whitfield County (Ga.) actually has just half of a functioning heart.
But it hasn't stopped him from playing baseball for the last five years in the Miracle League, a baseball organization with a special mission that will soon have a presence in Chattanooga.
If you go
What: Chattanooga Miracle Field groundbreaking ceremonyWhen: Wednesday, May 25, at 10 a.m.Where: Warner ParkWebsite: miracleleaguechatt.com includes more information and a donation link
"Before this, there was nothing he could ever do," said his mother, Lisa Hennon.
Jerry Bruce Hennon, who is on the heart transplant list, is one of nearly 200 people with physical or mental disabilities who have donned a uniform and played ball on Dalton's Miracle Field since it was completed in 2012.
On Wednesday at 10 a.m., officials will break ground on Tennessee's first Miracle Field, to be located at Warner Park. It is expected to be completed in time for play this fall. The ceremony is open to the public.
"I think people will be surprised at the need and how many people will participate, and I think it'll bring Chattanooga a lot of joy," Lisa Hennon said.
It will be the newest addition to the softball complex adjacent to the Chattanooga Zoo that already features six fields.
Miracle Fields aren't just ordinary fields, however.
There are nearly 300 of them across North America designed with special turf and other accommodations for players who use wheelchairs and other assistive devices.
The bases are 50 feet apart, as compared to 90 feet in high school baseball, and the center field fence is just 120 feet away, to make home runs attainable for some players.
Miracle League Baseball began in 1998 in Conyers, Ga., and now boasts more than 200,000 children and adults participating, according to the news release from the organization. Miracle Leagues are well-orchestrated operations featuring teams named after MLB franchises and all the fanfare that comes with any other youth baseball league.
It will join the local Dream League, which plays at Rivermont Park, in offering organized baseball to local athletes with disabilities.
"I'm just happy there will be more chances for kids to play," said Dream League commissioner Dave Dake, who is also a board member for the Miracle League of Chattanooga.
The new league will also bring new opportunities for the community to get involved. Each player has a buddy alongside them during play to encourage them and help when necessary. In Dalton, buddies have come from local churches and high schools to help out at the Miracle Field. Many leave with changed perspectives, said Millie Hicks, director of Dalton's league.
"It's truly an amazing experience," she said. "Each time, they think they're coming to give a blessing to the players. But they don't realize that they are the ones who are going to receive the blessing, because it is such an amazing thing. We have so many students who have told us how this transformed them and their outlook on life."
The Downtown Chattanooga Rotary Club, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Berkshire Hathaway Realty Center each donated $250,000 for the Miracle Field, and project leaders are hopeful the public will help out with the remaining costs as the league gears up for its first pitch.
"I guarantee," Hennon said, "that the first game Chattanooga will host, there won't be a dry eye in the place."
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.