ROCKFORD, Mich. — Dan Hurwitz, a proud Boston Red Sox fan, stands in a construction site along 10 Mile Road in Rockford.
“It creates a commonplace,” he says. “It creates a common level of understanding, a common level of friendship.”
Hurwitz is talking about baseball.
“Every child deserves a chance to play baseball,” West Michigan Miracle League President Tony Comden says. “And that’s what we’re gonna do.”
“We’re gonna give them that chance.”
A chance for children with mental and physical disabilities in West Michigan to take the field and play a game they otherwise might never be able to.
On Wednesday, ground was broken on the West Michigan Miracle Field – the first field at the new Art Van Baseball/Softball Complex.
The complex will hold 12 fields, including the Miracle Field – a 15,000-square-foot facility with special rubber turf to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, and a buddy system to help players on the field.
It’s the fifth field of its kind in the state, but the first in West Michigan.
“I was sitting at PNC Park in Pittsburgh watching the Tigers play the Pirates,” Comden says, “and before the game the Pirates honored somebody who had started a Miracle League field in western Pennsylvania. And they’re showing a video of these kids playing baseball.
“There’s no crying in baseball, but I got pretty choked up seeing those kids play.”
Comden’s nine-year-old son, Jed, uses a walker and plays in a regular baseball league.
Comden took the idea to the West Michigan Sports Commission as they planned the Art Van complex.
“Fifteen minutes later, I had them convinced that we needed to include a Miracle League field at this complex,” he says.
“We can’t wait another year,” Hurwitz says. “Any year that goes by is a chance of some kid to not play baseball.”
Hurwitz knows all too well.
His son, Nate, was a 16-year-old junior at Forest Hills Eastern High School – and a member of the Miracle League Board of Directors.
“(Nate) was born and was a normal kid,” Hurwitz says, “until we found when he was young that he had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.”
By age 9, Nate was in a wheelchair, but never lost his passion for baseball. He and his family traveled around the country for Red Sox games. The Miracle Field became his drive.
“One of the things Nate wanted was that every kid deserved a chance to come up and have his name get announced,” Hurwitz says. “Nate was gonna be the announcer. That was his role.”
On September 16, Nate passed away of an infection unrelated to his disability.
Comden and Hurwitz took up the task of getting the field built for Nate. Support has been overwhelming.
The Miracle League has raised more than $689,000 dollars for construction. When it opens in September, it will be named “Nate Hurwitz Field.”
“It was really our honor and privilege as a board to tell Dan and to tell his family, ‘This place needs to be named the Nate Hurwitz Field,'” Comden says, “and I’m very happy that it will be.”
“Pretty cool…pretty cool,” Hurwitz says. “I think…he would just – he’d love it. He would love it. We’re so proud of it.”
“Just to have ‘The Nate Hurwitz Field’ is the most amazing idea.”
And the field will be an amazing place for families to come together and enjoy a simple game.
“It’s finally my turn for my sister and my family to see how I can play,” Aaron VanKampen says. He’s one of the many West Michigan kids that will get to use the field.
“It’ll just be fun to play finally,” he says. “Just having fun and playing with teammates.”
“To say to someone in their family, ‘Look what I can do,'” Hurwitz says.
“Nate was never about what he can’t do. He was about what he could do.”
Art Van made a surprise announcement on Wednesday, donating an extra $50,000 to build an all-abilities playground at the field.