Liam Richardson is an ebullient and engaging 12-year-old who has big league dreams of hitting little league home runs in Petaluma.
Richardson, who has Down syndrome, might soon have the opportunity bring his athletic aspirations to fruition on an adaptable baseball diamond built at Lucchesi Park by a local group that’s part of a nationally recognized Miracle League nonprofit.
Backed by a group of Petaluma parents, athletes and business leaders who formed the Miracle League North Bay, the $2 million project would include a custom-designed, rubberized turf field that will measure 200 feet from home plate to outfield. The diamond will accommodate wheelchairs and other devices while minimizing injuries, breaking down barriers posed by dirt infields and natural grass that can make it difficult for those with disabilities to play on traditional fields.
The proposal also includes wheelchair accessible dugouts, handicap accessible pathways to the field, an inclusive playing facility, restrooms, concessions stands and seating, according to city staff reports.
The project will be funded by the Miracle League North Bay nonprofit, which will also cover costs for routine maintenance of the field. Management of programs will be handled by the Boys and Girls Club of Marin and Petaluma. The field will be secured for permitted use, though it could be utilized for other activities when not occupied by the league’s programs.
Though there are 270 Miracle League organizations in five countries, there are no such facilities in Northern California, according to the group’s website. Since the closest field is in Modesto, the adaptable field in Petaluma has the potential to serve more than 50,000 special needs children and adults from across the Bay Area, according to Jennifer Richardson, Liam Richardson’s mother and one of the local group’s founding members.
“It’s bringing something that is so unique and something untapped to Petaluma — I’m dumbfounded that there’s not one in the Bay Area,” Richardson said.
For her son, the field would provide an opportunity to play one of his favorite sports with his peers, while also connecting him with a partner through a “buddy system,” which pairs able-bodied kids and adults with special needs players, Richardson said.
“The thing my son loves about junior high is that he goes to school with everyone else,” she said. “He doesn’t look at himself differently. People might look at him as different, but he doesn’t necessarily look at himself differently — these are his friends and being unable to play so many sports with these kids is really hard for him.”
The group behind the Miracle League North Bay has been working with the city since June 2015 to hammer out details for the site and proposal, and the plans last month earned a stamp of approval from the city’s Recreation, Music and Parks Commission. The project is expected to be on the agenda for the Dec. 19 city council meeting, according to Drew Halter, the city’s interim recreation supervisor.
The project site at the 30-acre Lucchesi Park was occupied by an art feature and play structure that was removed in 2008, Halter said. Though the project would require the relocation of two disc golf baskets, Halter said the space to the north of the community center is otherwise “underutilized.”
If approved, the Miracle League field will add to the three other diamonds used by the American Little League as well as a multi-use artificial turf field that’s utilized for soccer and lacrosse. Parking for the field will be in the north Community Center parking lot, and no adverse traffic or parking impacts are anticipated, Halter said.