Jack Yarborough, also known as “Jack the Hammer” to his teammates, joined the Miracle League of the Triangle at age 11.
“I want to be like Babe Ruth and hit home runs,” Yarborough, who has Down syndrome, said.
Ten years later, now sporting a goatee, Yarborough has hit dozens of home runs and become the MVP of his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. When he steps up to the plate, teams from both dugouts cheer.
“It’s like the major leagues,” Yarborough said.
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On Saturday, 41 players, including Yarborough, and six coaches who have been part of the Miracle League for 10 years were honored at Andy’s Foundation Ball Field in Cary. The league, an organization that gives children and adults with disabilities the opportunity to play baseball, started with 130 players in 2006.
“Ten years ago, on a morning similar to this, we came out to play baseball,” said executive director Benjy Capps to a cheering crowd. Since its inception, the league has grown to 450 players, ranging in age from 5 to 51.
There are over 200 Miracle Leagues around the United States and Canada, according to the national Miracle League’s website. The Triangle chapter was the first in North Carolina. Wilmington, Charlotte and Franklin County also have chapters.
Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht and N.C. State University baseball coach Elliott Avent spoke at the event at the field at Adams Elementary School.
“The greatest thing we’ve done in Cary is be a partner to all of this,” Weinbrecht said.
Every season, players are paired with a “buddy,” a volunteer who attends games with them, and placed on one of 32 teams according to grade level and ability. Players pick their nicknames, announced over the loudspeakers, and walk-up music.
Yarborough’s walk-up song is “Swing” by country singer Trace Adkins. Games are two innings long and every player scores a run before the end of the inning.
“It gives our players a chance to fit in,” Capps, whose son Micah has played in the league for nine years, said. “Parents get to watch their children participate in activities they might otherwise not be able to.”
The league plays at fields in Cary and North Raleigh and plans to have a third location in Durham eventually, Capps said.
I wish they had something that made typical kids feel this special.
Frank, Jack’s father, has coached the Pirates for 10 years. It helps all of the players have a “rockstar life,” he said.
“I wish they had something that made typical kids feel this special,” Yarborough said.
Zoë Playe has been volunteering with the league for several years.
“It’s the best part of my year,” Playe said. “I can’t imagine not doing it.”
After watching a televised program about the national Miracle League in 2004, Triangle developer Robin Rose and Tony Withers, executive vice president of Withers Ravenel Engineering, decided to form a league in the Triangle. Their goal was to give children with special needs the opportunity to play baseball.
The Miracle League of the Triangle had its first opening day at Andy’s Foundation Ball Field in 2006. Eight years later a second field was built in North Raleigh.
Last spring, the league expanded its programs to include an adult league, which Yarborough plans to join soon.
The best part of America’s favorite pastime? “It gets me the girls,” Yarborough said, winking.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler