WHEELING - When she began her quest to build a Miracle League field in Wheeling more than six years ago, Lorraine McCardle had visions of days like Saturday, when 45 players were joined by their volunteer buddies and members of the Pittsburgh Pirates for a fantasy camp at the Miracle League field at the J.B Chambers Youth Sports Complex.
With the field now a reality, McCardle - who now serves as president of the organization - has set her sights on taking advantage of the facility for more than just baseball.
"I want to grow," she said. "We can do so much on this field, and it's not just about baseball. We can do anything and make it adaptable."
McCardle said the field has been a blessing for her and her son Austin, 13, in addition to the dozens of other local children who are able to experience activities they thought were impossible. She said the facility - which also includes a restroom, shelter and food stand - allows for the participants to experience independence in a comfortable setting.
"Every little bit of independence you can give them, the better," she said. "It gets them ready for life. I can tell my son to go get a drink or use the restroom, and he's confident to do that here."
McCardle said the field also gives the children a chance to socialize and meet others, which is not always an easy thing to do. She said the opportunity to learn each other's names and look forward to seeing friends creates a lifelong bond.
"Getting that closeness as a friend is so special," she said.
That closeness has spread to the families of the athletes, as McCardle said many are quick to volunteer their time and money to help with events like Saturday's.
"We have teams in the Miracle League, but our families are our best team," she said. "For two days, we had families up here getting this place beautiful for this event."
It's that commitment to the children and the facility that has made the quest for a Miracle League field successful - and has made the field one of the best in the region.
"This is one of the premier Miracle League fields anywhere," said Bob Nutting, chairman of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pirates Charities.
Pirates Charities, the philanthropic arm of the Major League Baseball club, has contributed more than $500,000 to various Miracle Field projects, including Wheeling's. Nutting said the Elm Grove field is a point of pride for him as a Wheeling native.
"The programming the local volunteers have done has brought this field alive, and for me it's fun and satisfying to see the players come down, see the impact one smile at a time, one kid at a time and one family at a time," he said. "This is a great example of how we can use a local community resource, tap into a regional resource and making something better for everyone."
Pirates President Frank Coonelly also commended the volunteers and McCardle for the hard work and time that has been put into the facility.
"A community is able to build a field like this because of dedicated people in the community that see the need for a facility that all kids can play on, then go about the very hard work of getting funding," he said. "This is a very dedicated group of community leaders, parents and supporters who raised the money necessary, then fought through the obstacles to get it done."
Some obstacles still remain, as McCardle said a large family restroom still requires funding. Additionally, she said items such as equipment and food are always needed.
"We're trying to take things on on our own," she said of fundraising efforts. "Any help someone can give, whether it's helping with food supplies or to donate money, it's always appreciated."
Despite the challenges, McCardle said the experience of bringing the field to Wheeling has changed her life. Not only has it helped Austin and other children to better their lives, it has also given her a new perspective.
"Day in and day out, these children go through more than some people will ever go through in their lifetime," she said. "This has just added so much to my life. I don't get paid a penny for it, but I love it and want what's best for my son."