Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken was a big hit at the dedication of McCoy Park's new Independence Ability Field, which is designed for children with special needs.
But the biggest hit of the morning came from 9-year-old Caelin Linton, who hit the first out-of-the-park homer at the field designed for special needs children.
To make the moment even more special, Caelin's little brother, 6-year-old Nicholas, was on the base paths – in his wheelchair, which was pushed by their father Cameron – when Caelin's shot left the park.
“As a dad, that's a moment I'll never forget,” Cameron said. “This whole day has been pretty awesome. We didn't tell Caelin why we were taking him and his brother out of summer day school today, and we drove up to the park and all these jerseys were on the fence of the new park.”
Caelin quickly spotted a jersey with his name on the back.
“I saw that jersey and wanted it,” said Caelin, who deals with ADHD and autism. “I hit it out of the park.”
As dad wheeled Nicholas around the bases, the younger brother clapped in sheer delight.
“We played T-ball with the Exceptionals, but that was nothing like this,” said Cameron, who said that Nicholas deals with cerebral palsy. “Every dad wants to see his son play baseball, and today, both of them got to play. It doesn't get any better than that.”
As they posed for a post home-run photo, Nicholas called out, 'Stinky feet!” when he was asked to smile. The only smile wider than Nicholas' belonged to his father.
The Independence Ability Field, which includes an inclusive playground, a sprayground water park and a state-of-the-art baseball field is nearing completion at McCoy Park, on Bess Truman Parkway just south of the Truman Library.
Much of the funding for the park came from Ripken's Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which has built and dedicated 21 fields across the United States, with plans for 60 more.
“Census data shows that our community has more children with disabilities than any other surrounding community, so there was a need for something like this,” Independence Parks and Recreation Director Eric Urfer said, as a crowd of more than 1,500 surrounded the new field to watch the first game unfold. “It's just amazing how so many things fell into place to make this are a reality.”
More than $1.2 million of the $1.6 million project has been raised. The Independence Ability Field will feature expanded dugouts that can accommodate wheelchairs, a rubberized playing surface and bases that are flush with the turf for better access and mobility.
“Every time I look at this project, I get that feeling that we live in a special community, one that provides for youngsters with physical needs,” Urfer said.
When totally finished, the overall park scheme will feature a 2-to-5 playground, a playground for kids ages 5 and older, a sprayground – which features an area where kids can go under a water spray to cool off – and the Independence Ability Field.
Ramps will replace stairs, swings and slides and will be adapted and the cry of “Take me out to the ballgame!” will have new meaning for special needs children.
The Kansas City Royals donated $150,000 from the 2012 All-Star Game, and local labor unions have made monetary and man-hour donations.
“We're so proud to be a part of this,” said Royals president Dan Glass, who attended the event alongside his father, team owner and chairman of the board, David Glass, along with Ripken. “But don't thank us. Thank the fans who came out to the All-Star Game and sold out every event. That's where the money comes for a wonderful project like this.”