Minot's four "Dream Catchers" baseball teams finally have a place to play after the dedication of their new field on Thursday evening, located at the northeast corner of South Hill Complex. The program offers children with mental or physical impairment the opportunity to get together for America's favorite pasttime.
Michelle Bliven started Dream Catchers in 2003 so her son, Aaron, could continue to play his favorite sport.
He partook in tee-ball until considered too old for the sport, yet was unable to play baseball in the junior leagues. "He spent a year not playing ball," Bliven recounted, watching his siblings play from the sidelines. "I knew he missed it a lot. I wanted Aaron to be able to play."
After a bit of brainstorming, Bliven got in touch with the parents of other disabled children and began to organize a league of their own.
"That's how it started, at the kitchen table."
The gameplay was modified a bit, featuring noncompetitive, two-inninged games where every player gets to bat, run round the bases, touch the ball and score. Some players require varying degrees of assistance, so the program makes use of reverse inclusion, with a regularly-abled buddy assisting each player on the field.
"Our baseball is an activity where we bring in the community to help us," said Bliven. Regular buddies include the Minot Metros, but also athletes from Minot State University, Minot and Bishop Ryan high schools, Minot Air Force Base airmen, and Target employees. "We'll be playing with the Toros Sept. 10," she added.
At its start there were only 13 players, but the program has since expanded to 77, drawing in participants from as far away as Bottineau. With steady usage also came the need for special facilities. Conventional turf-and-dirt fields the teams were playing on were a bit oversized and made difficult terrain for walkers, wheelchairs and braces. "This field is a rubberized surface," explained Harvey Herslip, grandfather to three Dream Catchers who helped organize the project. Based on the "Miracle Fields" found throughout the country, the Dream Catchers' field will also have smaller, 120-foot sidelines, with two-dimensional, painted bases spaced 45 feet apart. The surface is also "sloped enough in direction so that water will drain off of it," Herslip added.
The project was three and a half years in the making, beset by funding and weather-related hurdles. But with the stripes painted down on Monday, the specialty field was finally ready for use.
"It was a lot of work," said Herslip.
In all, the project cost about $280,000. The work had been estimated at $315,000, but Herslip explained that in-kind donations brought the actual cost down. Roger Kluck provided the engineering, Minot Recreation Commission the parcel of land, Ackerman Surveying & Associates the knowhow, with funding for the project coming from a number of sources, with smaller amounts ranging from $25 to $2,500 coming from various businesses and individuals.
"I wrote grants for the larger financing," Herslip said, with such funds coming from the Bremer Foundation, Minot Area Community Development, North Dakota and Minot Community Foundation, St. Joseph's Community Health Foundation, Twins Community Fund, Scheels All Sports, Qdoba, Buffalo Wild Wings, and the like. Major project sponsors have signage posted along the outfield wall to recognize their contributions.
"It's been a long time coming, but it's done," Bliven was pleased to say. "Without the support of the community, it wouldn't be possible."
Parents, friends and well-wishers gathered at the opening ceremony Thursday to watch the Dream Catchers take to their new field. "There were smiles all over the place," Bliven said. "It was an incredible turnout and an incredible night." Cheers were shared all around as the little sluggers tore round the bases, even sinking a few home runs over the back fence.
"They have a blast," said Bliven, though the fun is by no means limited to the kids. "By Friday I usually can't move," she added, laughing.
The teams' season generally runs Thursday evenings from June through August, in between school terms. Play is always free, and those interested in the program can call Bliven for more information at 852-1983.