Loud exuberant applause filled the stands as the Jungle Poppins, a band of Miracle League players, filled the air with music and pure unadulterated joy. The band performed at the Miracle League of San Diego, a nonprofit organization where special needs kids and young adults play organized baseball with the support of a “buddy”. The band used the the slogan “let music upstage autism,” a quintessential phrase for the band and a similarly defining message involving baseball for the Miracle League itself.
During an episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO, Dan Engel, founder of the League’s branch in San Diego, along with his wife, heard the story of a young girl, Lauren Gunder, who had brittle bone disease and was legally blind. Despite this, the little girl talked about the Miracle League organization with glowing admiration.
“She talked about not having a disability on the field and making friends,” Engel said. “We fell in love and said we need to do this in San Diego.”
The couple was deeply moved and proceeded to found the San Diego branch of the Miracle League in 2007 with 80 players and 100 buddies. Fast forward to 2019 and the League has grown to 260 players and 300+ buddies as well as even opening a second location within California.
During the branch’s foundation, while battling stage IV melanoma, a serious skin cancer, Engel used the League as a way to find purpose in his life.
“It really gave me something to focus on,” Engel said. “There is no doubt in my mind that Miracle League is a part of what allowed me to beat cancer.”
Since its creation 13 years ago, the League has grown dramatically in size. However, its goal has remained the same.
“We build philanthropic souls,” Engel said. “Our mission is to have every participant walk away and say they had a great day.”
On March 16th, the branch celebrated the opening of its spring season with a large crowd, happiness, and of course,baseball. All games end in a tie, a custom for the branch, showing that the games themselves are not the focal point. From the branch’s perspective, the point is to highlight the capabilities of its players through baseball.
“We’ve created a place where families with special needs can bond,” Engel said. “Parents get to watch their kids having fun and buddies learn to give back with their time and make a difference in someone else’s life.”
The Miracle League of San Diego has built an empowering community that centers on bringing inclusion, hope, love, and joy into the lives of all those involved. The companionship felt has given the players something they would have never experienced had they not joined the Miracle League.