ROCKFORD, Mich. — Tony Comden wears many hats with the West Michigan Miracle League, but the most important one is Dad.
"Father of a Miracle League player, that's why I'm here," Comden told FOX 17 News.
Comden grew up playing baseball and wanted to coach his son Jed in the sport. But, there were challenges to overcome, due to Jed being diagnosed with brain cancer at a young age.
"Playing in traditional baseball league was not going to be an option for him because of some physical limitations that resulted from his cancer and his surgery," Comden explained. "He had lost all growth and fine motor skills, he couldn't walk, he couldn't talk, he couldn't urinate, he couldn't feed himself. He really had to start over from scratch."
After years of rehab and therapy, Jed could play baseball.
Opportunity struck when Comden learned about The Miracle League at a professional baseball game.
"Seeing a video of these kids with disabilities playing baseball and I just had that moment of 'alright, let's go get this done,'" said Comden.
He was inspired to start the West Michigan Miracle League, working with sponsors and the community to raise half a million dollars to build Nate Hurwitz Field.
The league opened up to the first local players in 2013.
"Then we had about 40 kids for the fall season, and now we're up to 80 kids each season, and a lot of our kids have now graduated into an adult league," he explained. "We've had blind kids, we've had kids who can't hear, we've had kids in walkers and wheelchairs, autism, Down syndrome. We literally had a little boy play from a hospital bed...so much of their life is focused on what they can't do. We don't care what they can't do. We focus on what they can."
Players hit the baseball diamond during two seasons each year, each getting their own jersey and trophy or medal to celebrate their involvement.
"It's so inspiring to see the joy that they have, the appreciation that they have to play," said Comden. "I wanted to do this for them, for my son, but I get so much more out of this than what they do."
Last season was canceled due to the pandemic, but Comden said teams are back playing ball this spring, with safety protocols in place.
The last game of the spring season is coming up on Saturday, June 5.
"It's been a lot of work to make it work, but it's absolutely worth it when we're out here on game days to see the joy, to see the celebration, to see the smiles; it's a beautiful thing," said Comden.
Thanks to a donation from Fifth-Third Bank, a new video board is being installed at Nate Hurwitz Field that will allow players to see themselves on the big screen, along with showing pictures and replays of the action.
To learn more about the West Michigan Miracle League, click here.
As the FOX 17 and Lake Michigan Credit Union Pay it Forward Person of the Month, Comden is receiving a $550 prize.