I get tired of talking about “can't”, and the workers' compensation system sometimes seems hell bent on it. We can't simplify the claims system. We can't humanize the process. We can't convince people that getting back to work is best for them. And we can't convince employers they need their injured back. 

We can't seem to get our prescription drug issues under control. We can't settle on MSA standards. We can't reform comp without adding layers of complexity. And the kingpin of them all; “You are now disabled. You can't do anything anymore”.

That is why last Saturday was so refreshing, when I spent the morning volunteering for my local Sertoma Club at the Manasota Miracle League. “Can't” simply isn't a concept there.

You see, we have a field of dreams here in Sarasota, and until Saturday I did not even know it existed. It is a baseball complex that, when complete, will include a custom-designed field with a cushioned rubberized turf to help prevent injuries, wheelchair accessible dugouts, handicapped accessible concession stand and restrooms, and a completely flat surface to eliminate any barriers to special needs players. Much of it exists today, courtesy of a variety of corporate sponsors, but largely due to the support of our two local “winter teams”, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles.

The Miracle Leagues motto and concept is simple: “Every Child Deserves a Chance to Play Baseball.”

The Miracle League of Manasota is an affiliate of the National Miracle League Association, joining more than 200 communities around the world that are providing opportunities for disabled children to play baseball. Since its founding in 1998, more than 220 specially surfaced fields have been built or are under construction. Miracle Leagues serve more than 200,000 youngsters with special needs.

The Miracle League of Manasota has adopted the Miracle League rules that every player bats once each inning, all base runners are safe, every player scores a run before the inning is over (last one up gets a home run), able bodied community children and volunteers serve as ‘buddies’ to assist the players, and each team and each player wins every game.

Not too dissimilar from the way public schools now handle all competition, really.

Our group spent the morning providing doughnuts, bagels and fresh fruit to the players and their friends and family as the games progressed through the morning. The local league has players that range in age from 4 to 84, and game day is a huge event for them. This statement from the league’s website really summarizes it well:

Despite infirmities, Miracle League players will beg their families to get them to every game. The thrill of playing, the cheers from the stands, the self esteem and the friendships they develop will make the Miracle League field an oasis for disabled children, miles away from their everyday battles.

Many players are assisted by teenaged volunteers, who support them in accomplishing the task. I can best describe the fielding as “loose”, so somehow every single player manages to eventually find their way home. The local league currently supports 10 teams, each named after a major league club, and they run two 10 week seasons a year.

For each game day of the season, regardless of the level of their disability, these players simply “can”. They can play. They can feel the crack of the bat as it connects with the ball. They can run the bases, and score a much needed point for their team. More importantly, they can be a part of something much bigger than themselves, and can be an active contributor to a greater effort.

The local clubs first Spring Season began March 17, 2012. The Miracle League continues to reach  out to invite children with disabilities to play baseball through the county recreation programs, disability support groups and servicing agencies, the schools, existing baseball programs and the media. As their website states, “The Miracle League will make dreams come true for so many youngsters who have been denied the chance to participate in a team sport.”

It was so refreshing to spend a day with people who just “can”, regardless of their mental or physical state. Wouldn't it be great if we could just instill that attitude and support system in the world of workers' comp? Imagine the impact if we could be geared to restore injured workers' to a contributing role rather than simply focusing on “closing the claim”. 

It sure would be nice to talk about “can” once in a while.

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