Nate Hurwitz Field opens in Rockford
ROCKFORD, Mich. (WZZM) - An American pastime is now a reality for dozens of local children with mental and physical disabilities.
Saturday, the West Michigan Miracle League threw the first pitch at the new Nate Hurwitz Field in Rockford, which is dedicated to Nate Hurwitz, who was a 16-year-old junior at Forest Hills Eastern High School.
Hurwitz suffered from a rare degenerative muscular disease and died unexpectedly last year from an infection.
A bronze statute of Nate was unveiled in his memory at a dedication ceremony before the first pitch.
"It means everything. Nate was on the board of the West Michigan Miracle League, and when he tragically passed away, we decided we had to get the field built, we wanted it done, didn't want another kid to lose the chance to play," said his father, Dan Hurwitz.
The vision behind the entire project is Tony Comden, President and Founder West Michigan Miracle League.
"This is motivated initially by my son. He has a disability, he uses a walker to walk. And I wanted to see him play baseball," said Comden.
"My energy has been on raising money and getting the field built," he said.
"For the first-time ever, there are 40 kids that are going to play today. They got to put on their own baseball jersey with their own name on the back," said Comden.
"I'm here today because I really want to play baseball, and it's finally my turn to play as well," said Aaron Van Kampen, who has cerebral palsy.
"The surface, the outfield being good for walkers, because grass and uneven surfaces can be a real problem," said David Reese, who came with his grandson, Justin Deboer, who as cerebral palsy. "And same for the infield, we don't have to worry about wheelchairs getting stuck in the dirt."
"Some kids don't have the ability to go outside and play so now they do," said Deboer.
"And now that we're here and seeing the smiles on kids' faces, tears in grandpas' eyes, they get to see their grandchildren play baseball for the first time.
"Anytime this guy gets opportunities to do things he otherwise wouldn't have, I always get a little emotional," said Reese.
"Because this is the only time in their lives they would get that opportunity," Jim Van Kampen, Aaron's grandfather.
"Not only do we have kids who want to play, we have a community who understands that," said Hurwitz.
The field cost $550,000. West Michigan Miracle League has raised $700,000 in cash and pledges. Some of that money will go towards a handicapped accessible playground.