Miracle by the Bay

Participants in the Miracle by the Bay program pose for a photo at an event.

The nonprofit organization Miracle by the Bay champions all individuals with disabilities. Its most noticeable program is on the baseball field.

Thirteen weeks in the spring and eight weeks in the fall, Miracle by the Bay has been fielding two teams of individuals with disabilities for baseball games that bring lots of cheers, no matter what the score.

The ages of the participants range generally from 10 to 50, although currently on the "roster" is a 7-year-old. The range of disabilities run the gamut, from those with developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome, as well as people with autism and cerebral palsy. There is even one player who is visually impaired. Although mostly males make up the 26 active players, there are females too. The players hail from throughout the area, including Oldsmar, Largo and St. Petersburg.

"It's a unique league," said Matthew Walker, president and chief executive of Miracle by the Bay and director of baseball operations. "Everybody's abilities and disabilities are different."

The 28-year-old Walker himself has cerebral palsy, yet he is the force behind both Miracle by the Bay and the baseball league.

"He's the leader," said former Tampa Bay Devil Ray Toby Hall, who is a Miracle board member and who also works closely with Walker as an assistant baseball coach.

Walker's baseball goal is to increase participation of people with disabilities, hopefully doubling the numbers soon. He notes that players gather before games for some practice and then take the field for a game. Volunteers assist with the practices and games. 

Thanks in part to Hall, a partner of the Courthouse Performance Center in Oldsmar, the baseball games have an added home at the indoor facility.

Walker and Hall worked on the idea together. Hall, who has been advocate for those with disabilities for years, and Walker discussed the needs of the program. Having a field that is easily accessible and handicap-friendly, and indoors, is where the Performance Center comes in. It's a mutually beneficial relationship.

Walker pointed out that the program has gotten a lot of support from the Tampa Bay Rays and in particular, Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder.

Miracle by the Bay is more than just baseball, however. The organization offers a host of programs and opportunities for individuals with disabilities as well as sponsors and volunteers.

The vision of the group is to provide all-inclusive community programming for special needs youth and adults while also providing social opportunities through a variety of events and programs. 

"We want to ‘empower, inspire and encourage' individuals with various disabilities," said Walker.

The long-term goal for the organization, just three years old, is to build a permanent recreation center that is friendly to people with disabilities, no matter what their challenges may be.

For more information about Miracle by the Bay, visit miraclebythebay.org (note that the website is currently being updated and later this month will become miraclebythebay.net). You can also learn about Miracle by the Bay on its Facebook page.