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January 17, 2011

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Arizona's physically, mentally and emotionally-challenged youths will have a league of their own in just a few weeks, as they begin playing in the new Miracle League of Arizona stadium in Scottsdale.

Dan Haran, Sr., father of the former Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher, heads the operation. Haran says the stadium is designed to remove barriers for children with disabilities, with enlarged dugouts for wheelchair access as well as rooms for caregivers and privacy.

"A lot of these kids are in wheelchairs. They've got respiratory situations. A lot of our kids are blind or visually impaired. So they need special facilities to kind of help them out. The turf is a rubberized turf, and that way, wheelchairs can get around, kids on crutches can get around."

Each player with special-needs will be assigned a volunteer "buddy" from local schools, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Boys and Girls Clubs, Haran says.

"To help the child get around the bases, or to help them in the field ... to sit in the dugout and talk with them."

Haran says Miracle League is still $100,000 away from paying for the $1.7 million stadium. He says the project was jump-started by $380,000 from the Diamondbacks and donated land from the Scottsdale Unified School District.

"The Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority gave us $250,000. The Piper Trust gave us $100,000 and the Scottsdale Charros have given us well over $100,000."

Haran says special-needs children are as thrilled as any other kid to play baseball as their parents watch.

"They may be physically or mentally challenged, but their desire to have fun and to play baseball is exactly the same as any able-bodied kid."

Haran says the new stadium, tentatively scheduled to open March 22, will be available to any child with special-needs, with no age limit and at no cost.

To sign up or contribute, visit mlaz.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ