It was hard to tell who was having more fun one a bright and sunny Saturday morning at Ability Field at McCoy Park, where Kansas City pitcher Chris Young and catcher Drew Butera served as battery mates during a Miracle League baseball game that featured a group of young sluggers who received a surprise gift from their royal guests.
With the help the Major League Baseball Players Association and the Players Trust, Butera and Young handed out baseball gloves to each of the young participants, and even a few of their lucky siblings.
“We do this in quite a few cities,” said MLBPA representative Richard White, “and you’ll never find two better guys than Drew and Chris. They wanted to come out here and be a part of this activity, and you can tell they’re having a much fun as the kids.”
Maybe even a bit more.
“This is great,” said Young, a lanky pitcher who brought his daughter Cate (8) and sons Scott (5) and Grant (3). “I really wanted my own children to be a part of this, because kids are kids, and I want them to see how all kids want to play baseball and have fun. The youngsters (in the Miracle League) might have limitations, but they are kids and they are a blessing to their families in the same my children are a blessing to my family.”
In a game at the park that ironically featured the Royals and Orioles – Young had 10 strikeouts in a 4-2 victory Friday night against the visiting Baltimore Orioles – Young threw a few pitches while Butera served as his catcher.
“The kids are great and their parents and brothers and sisters all have such a good time at an event like this,” Butera said. “It’s special for me and Chris to be able to come out to an event like this and give something back to our community.”
The game was played on Daniel’s Field, which is named after 12-year-old Daniel Oakes, an Independence teenager who served as the inspiration for the field which provides a place for physically challenged youngsters to play baseball.
Daniel’s father Danny is a member of the Independence Parks and Recreation Department, which is in charge of maintaining the city’s baseball fields.
Before the first game was played at Independence Ability Field at McCoy Park, parks director Eric Urfer asked Daniel to come to home plate.
Daniel, who moves with the help of a walker due to cerebral palsy, joined Urfer at home plate as Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., members of the Kansas City Royals and more than 1,500 fans, special needs youngsters and their parents watched.
“I was thinking, ‘What’s going on? Why am I out here?’” Daniel said.
Urfer explained how for two years Daniel was a motivating force in collecting funds for the new park, which received monetary support from the Kansas City Royals, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and other area businesses.
“When we would talk to an organization about helping, and they said, ‘It sounds like a great idea, but it just doesn’t fit into our plans,’ I thought of Daniel’s face when he found out we were building a baseball field where he could play,” Urfer explained.
“His face, the look of joy when he found out about this field, that served as our motivation. That’s what kept us going.”
Before that first pitch, Urfer introduced Daniel, then unfurled a banner on the backstop behind home plate that simply said “DANIEL’S FIELD.”
Daniel was in the middle of all the activities Saturday.
When he asked Butera to sign his Royals jersey, the personable catcher said, “You’ve already got my autograph, right here.”
Butera was pointing to his signature, which was written across the back of the jersey.
“That’s OK,” Daniel said, “I want you to sign it every time I get to meet you.”
Butera smiled and gladly obliged.
While Butera was giving out autographs and hugs, Young was with 9-year-old Brady Langevin.
Brady couldn’t quite catch up with a Young pitch, but he smacked the ball off a tee and rushed around the bases.
After he touched home plate, he greeted Young with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“That’s a lifetime worth of memories right there,” said Tim Langevin, Brady’s father. “Someday he’ll understand that he got to go to home plate and hit against Chris Young, a World Series pitcher for the Royals. I know I’ll never forget this day – never!”
The highlight for all participants came when Young and Butera handed out the gloves.
Each player took the time to make sure the youngster received the proper glove, asking if they were right or left-handed.
When one young man seemed confused by the question, Young reached out to shake his hand, gave him a hug and asked him to throw a baseball.
He was a righty, and Young made sure the glove was the perfect fit.