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It's Official 'Opening Day' for Miracle League of Connecticut Field

The brand new, completely accessible field in West Hartford was dedicated on Father's Day, with a special ceremony and first pitch, followed by a complete afternoon of games.

Attending your kid's baseball game is a great way to celebrate Father's Day, and this Sunday the weather for baseball was absolutely perfect – with a cloudless sky and comfortable temperatures that made it a "Chamber of Commerce" day.

Father's Day was made all the more meaningful this year for some special dads. Those dads, as well as the scores of others involved in creating the "field of dreams" project, had a chance to see the kids play baseball on the , which officially debuted on Sunday at the campus in West Hartford.

State and local officials, parents and kids, and members of the community who have worked tirelessly for several years to make this field a reality were on hand Sunday to see the "official" first pitch.

The honor of throwing that first pitch belonged to 15-year-old Marcus Apter, who started raising money for this dream as part of his Bar Mitzvah several years ago. At the time, he hoped to raise $500 by selling rubber bracelets with the message “Let’s play ball – for all.” To date he has raised over $15,000 – maybe even closer to $20,000 said Marcus' mom, Carrie Berman.

"It's awesome," said Marcus, about having the chance to be the first official pitcher on the new field.

And the catcher for that pitch was someone special, too. It was Jonathan Slifka, younger brother of West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka, who played baseball growing up despite being in a wheelchair.

"What a fantastic thing this is. It would have made things so much easier," said Jonathan Slifka who said he was honored to be the first official catcher.

"Today we are celebrating the accomplishment of building the first Miracle League field in all of New England," said Miracle League of Connecticut Co-director Mike Michaud. "Today on Father's Day we celebrate dads, and I can't think of any better way," Michaud said.

He thanked the other co-directors, Scott Franklin and Ronit Shoham, and all those involved in the momentous fundraising task which has netted $800,000 to date for construction of the field, playground, and other facilities needed to make the site fully accessible.

State Sen. Beth Bye said, "I want to congratulate you on your miracle; this is a miracle of community." Bye, who along with other legislators helped secure a $250,000 grant for the field from the State Bond Commission, said she was first inspired about this project by a video Marcus Apter made several years ago.

"It is 'pitch perfect' that Jon Slifka will be catching the first pitch," said Bye, who also credited the Slifka family for their work and encouragement in bringing accessibility to the town, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Co-director Shoham, who said she would rather be out there "playing with the kids" than speaking into a microphone, thanked the "angels in the outfield" – the buddies who play together with the challenger team members. Shoham said she was moved by one parent who said, "Thank you for making my son smile when he thinks about 'his field.'"

The list of donors and sponsors is long, but co-director Franklin chose to single out two. Great American Donuts, a Dunkin Donuts franchise, which was "absolutely instrumental in everything you see here," and Lee Jurgen, a secretary in a law firm in Bishop's Corner.

Jurgen had already shown extraordinary generosity, donating $15,000 in memory of her late husband, Michael E. Perrotti Sr., when she dreamed of her husband saying the word "hats." Hats it was, said, Franklin, and Jurgen added to her giving with a donation of the brand new "Miracle League of Connecticut" hats which were distributed Sunday. "In Memory of MES Sr" reads the inscription on the back.

Abby Garneau of Hall High School sang "The Star Spangled Banner." Marcus Apter's fast ball was perfectly caught by Jonathan Slifka. Jack Putterman, son of Board of Education Chair Bruce Putterman, played "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

And like kids everywhere, the challenger teams spent the sunny Sunday afternoon playing baseball.

Jen Heintz June 18, 2012 at 10:58 AM
What a beautiful story. I am so proud of these dedicated folks and of our town. I was unable to attend but can't wait to take my girls when they start little league next year! (and kudos to ronni for a great piece of journalism, informative and concise yet personal. And no mention of "who won"... Cause that's never really the point, so much better to be sports-folk and cherish family and friends)
Ron Goralski June 18, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Perfectly stated Jen!
Ricky Ross June 18, 2012 at 02:02 PM
What a great accomlishment. The dedication of Mike, Scott and Ronit will always be an inspiration to me.

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