Jason Jennings Adaptive Field continues to provide platform, opportunities for ballplayers with disabilities

LAKEWOOD — As the lone baseball diamond in Colorado with a rubberized surface, Jason Jennings Adaptive Field is where the Miracle League of Metro Denver hosts competitive and recreational games for those with disabilities.

It’s also a field where everyone, from participants to volunteers to league organizers, gets a chance to grow into, and alongside of, the national pastime — regardless of the physical or intellectual limitations faced by those playing the game.

“No matter what kind of a hit these kids get, they light up like a Christmas tree, whether it’s a big hit to the outfield or a tiny little blip barely past home plate,” said Monica Greenfield, whose 17-year-old son Matthew has been playing at the field for nine years. “It doesn’t matter if they’re in a wheelchair being pushed, or if they’re like our son who can walk and run but it’s not a typical run. You just can’t help but smile watching these kids play, and neither can they.”

Built in 2006, Jennings (then the team’s No. 1 starting pitcher), the Rockies and private donors raised about $400,000 for the initial construction of the field, according to Miracle League of Metro Denver president Jim Morgan. Jennings donated $50,000 and the Rockies chipped in another $50,000 to match.

Jennings said he and the team’s contribution was worked into his arbitration contract the previous offseason. The field was one of 58 youth and high school diamonds built by the Rockies as part of their “Field of Dreams” program from 1995 to 2009.

“It was really the first time I’d seen the concept of the rubberized surface all over and the flat bases that were accessible to anyone,” Jennings recalled. “It was a no-brainer for me to be involved in it and it’s still an honor to have my name permanently fixated with that field. Hopefully long after I’m gone down the road, it will still be there, and people will probably have to Google me but the impact of the field will be clear.”

That impact is evident in families like the Greenfields, who have seen promising progress with Matthew that they attribute to his playing for the Cardinals, a competitive team in the Miracle League of Metro Denver. Matthew, a junior at Cherry Creek, has neurological disorders because of a gene mutation and is also autistic. Baseball has become an important pillar in his development.

“He can talk about his baseball experience with family and friends, and it makes him feel good as he watches his siblings do all these exciting things,” Greenfield explained. “He’s built confidence, it’s helped him socially, and it’s even helped from a physical therapy standpoint. Fine motor, gross motor, speech and language, cognitively — Matthew is affected by his disability across the board, so the fact that baseball helps him with coordination and balance and his gait makes it like a fun way to incorporate physical therapy into his week.”

And in the recreational league, volunteer “buddies” often seem to get as much out of the action as those with disabilities do.

“What’s been awesome to see grow are the relationships between the players and those volunteers,” Morgan said. “We have a lot of school teams that come and help out, and we’re partnered with Metro State softball. What you start to see is that what we’re really building is … an experience and an opportunity for all ranges of ages of kids who can interact with peers who have disabilities, and maybe they’ve never gotten to do that before. It’s a valuable, insightful experience for those kids.”

In a normal year, the Miracle League of Metro Denver has upwards of 125 players across its two leagues, and has both a spring and fall season. It provides opportunities for tee-ball age players all the way through adults, and, as Morgan explained, the non-profit is focused on sustaining the field’s legacy for decades to come.

That began with replacing the field’s aging surface with a sparkling new one this summer, a project that is nearing completion. The new surface cost about $350,000 and was funded by 60% private donations and 40% contributions from the Foothills Parks and Recreation District, which manages the field.

Looking forward, Morgan said the district and Miracle League of Metro Denver are looking at building an “all-inclusive baseball complex for individuals with disabilities” within the Schaefer Athletic Complex and adjacent to the current adaptive field.

While Morgan and his board are planning on pressing ahead with a fall season beginning on Aug. 15 amid “extraordinary safety conditions”, they are also in the preliminary stages of figuring out how to raise up to the $1 million necessary to build an accessible dirt field as well as a pavilion with bathrooms and a concession stand.

“Some of our more competitive kids want to play on an actual dirt field, so we want to give them that opportunity,” Morgan said. “And we’ve got port-a-potties out there (in the park) for kids with disabilities, and that’s something that doesn’t sit well with us. Bathrooms aren’t the most glamorous things to ask for donations for, but it’s really important.”


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