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A league of their own: Special needs athletes compete at custom Scottsdale baseball stadium

LISTEN: Listen: Voice For A Better Arizona: Miracle League

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When 9-year-old Aiden Ringo settles into the batter’s box, he says he forgets about his weekly doctor’s appointments and therapy.

The three surgeries he had on his feet in September never pop into his mind, he said.

The fact he’s the only kid in his class that gets around in a wheelchair is not important.

On Tuesday nights, Aiden gets to escape, and just be a kid, when he plays baseball for his Miracle League team.

“When you’re up to bat, it just takes you away. It just makes me feel so alive,” said Aiden, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was 18 months old.

About a year after the diagnosis, Aiden began feeling the severe effects of having epilepsy.

“That was traumatic because we just had no idea what was happening,” said Tessa Ringo, Aiden’s mother. “I’ve never had to call 911 before, so it’s those experiences that no one can prepare you for.”

Tessa said she quit her job to take care of Aiden full time. She said her son never played sports until last year, when the family found out about the Miracle League of Arizona a nonprofit organization that provides a safe baseball experience for children, teens and adults with disabilities or special health-care needs.

Dan Haren Sr. and his wife became involved in the league when their son, Dan, was traded from the Oakland Athletics to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007.

“We brought the idea to (Diamondbacks President) Derrick Hall, and about two months later, they wrote us a grant for about $380,000 to get the whole thing started,” said Haren, the league’s executive director.

The facility is a $2.2 million, state-of the-art stadium in Scottsdale. The field is made of rubber so that it is wheelchair accessible. There’s a warning track with fences and a scoreboard. The players choose their own walk-up music as an announcer calls out their name.

For most of the games, the league doesn’t keep score. There are no balls or strikes. Each players get as many swings as he or she needs to hit the ball.

“It feels so amazing. You hear all these cheers and it just feels like you’re running with one of the professionals,” Aiden said. “It’s just really fun to go out there and take yourself away. It feels like the real Major League experience.”