By STEVE KRAH
Roundtripper Academy in Westfield, Ind., is celebrating three decades in the baseball and softball training business in 2023 by launching an effort to help youths and young adults with mental or physical challenges to enjoy the diamond as participants.
The Miracle League of Westfield powered by Roundtripper plans to bring all-inclusive baseball and softball fields by converting space on its grounds.
Miracle League teams play on a custom-designed, rubberized turf field that accommodates wheelchairs and other assertive devices while helping to prevent injuries.
A group of parents whose children have trained at the facility approached Roundtripper Academy owners Chris and Sue Estep with a request.
“They have special needs kids that love baseball and are always there cheering on their brothers and sisters,” says Sue Estep. “We decided to make this happen. There’s a definite need in Hamilton County. We did the research and it’s definitely something we can do.
“Baseball is what we do 14 hours a day, seven days a week, 365. Why not provide those opportunities to have a league (that’s inclusive to all athletes)?
“We have so many amazing families that have come to us over the years and participated in teams and activities at our academy that it provides an opportunity for volunteers. That is a big part of these leagues to facilitate the games.”
The Hoffmans are one such family that will benefit from The Miracle League of Westfield and the stewardship of the Esteps and Roundtripper.
Adam (who trained with Chris Estep and earned a baseball letter at Butler University in 1997) and Jenna Hoffman’s son Lincoln Hoffman (14) plays for the Roundtripped-based Indiana Mustangs and is an eighth grader at Westfield Middle School.
His sister Londyn Hoffman (7) was born with an undiagnosed medical condition. A gene change has caused developmental delay. A “Riley Kid” (Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis), Londyn just beat cancer for the second time.
Baseball runs deep in the family.
“We’ve always got backyard baseball going in the summer,” says Jenna Hoffman.
Adam and Jenna were both raised in Minnesota and moved to Westfield 13 years ago. Her father — Michael Cummins — played in the Minnesota Twins system.
“She has used a walker or assistive device to get around her whole life,” says Jenna. “It is her happy place watching her brother play baseball.
“She lights up. She loves to hold the bat. She loves when big brother helps her run the bases and cheers her on. But that’s as close as she’s gotten to any organized sport.”
Hoffman says there is a need for volunteers at games, including a public address announcer and “dugout moms.”
“Every player will have a buddy that we refer to as Angels In the Outfield,” says Jenna. “They are there to make sure that child that is participating in The Miracle League has the best day of their life while they’re on the field.
“Every player who gets up to bat hits a home run. We need energetic voices on gameday.”
There are other Miracle League operations in central Indiana, but this would be the first one serving Hamilton County.
“Our current goal to get the seed money to get the league started is to raise $700,000,” says Sue Estep. “Our ultimate goal is to continue to provide funding for this league so no child will have to pay to play in the league.
“We’ll be able to maintain and do things long-term.”
There are currently three fields at Roundtripper Academy (which opened its doors in 1993) — youth baseball/softball, middle school baseball and high school baseball. A local engineer is working on the site plan to fit in The Miracle League of Westfield field — which are smaller in size — as part of a multi-use area.
“We’re going to turf our smallest field,” says Chris Estep, who notes that the surface will be short nap in the field to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers etc., with longer turf in the outfield.
Miracle League fields tend to have fences 115 to 125 feet from home plate with bases 50 feet part and the mound 33 feet from the plate.
He was on-board right away when approached about getting involved with Miracle League.
“It is one of the coolest projects that we will ever be a part of,” says Chris Estep. “There’s nothing like helping kids. You get to see them smiling, playing and interacting.
“I think it’s going to be something really, really awesome. I’m excited to get started on it. All the way around it is a feel-good project.”
Chris Estep is also head baseball coach at University High School in Carmel, Ind.
Sue Estep notes that the Miracle League of Westfield will also serve young adults that have aged out of school systems.
“(We can) keep them engaged in the community, have social interaction and opportunities to make connections,” says Sue Estep.
“We’re at the beginnings of this and we’ll take the league as far as it needs to go,” says Estep. “If we raise the funds and there is a need for additional, we will.”
The goal is to get the league up and running in the summer of 2023 — even if its a condensed version.
The Miracle League of Westfield will follow rules set up by The Miracle League (national organization).
Rally For A Cause is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 6 at Roundtripper Academy, 16708 Southpark Dr., Westfield. There will be inflatables, food trucks, face painting, a balloon artist at music by Tommy Baldwin from 3 to 6 p.m. (free admission, donations welcome).
An adult party follows. The Country Summer Band plays from 7 to 9:30 p.m., with headlinder Jai Baker 3 from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. There will be food and drink trucks (cost is $50 per person). Roundtripper’s Foundation — The Youth Sports Development Group — is hosting the event.
To purchase tickets, please visit www.roundtripper.com.
To learn more about The Miracle League of Westfield, visit www.miracleleagueofwestfield.com. There is an interest page for those who may have a child or young adult that wishes to participate.