Dane County’s Field of Dreams
Meet Bill Schultz, the man looking to build a local Miracle League field
As best Bill Schultz can remember, it was a late summer evening in 2018 when he watched the television news feature story that changed his life.
Schultz was sitting with Kathy, his wife of more than four decades, and on the screen a Major League Baseball pitcher named David Price was talking about the special baseball field for kids with physical and cognitive disabilities he’d built in his hometown in Tennessee.
The kids were paired with volunteers who pushed wheelchairs and otherwise assisted the young ballplayers, who couldn’t stop grinning. The story would have touched the hearts of anyone, but it truly resonated with Schultz.
“When I was 8 and tried out for Little League,” Schultz recalls, “they wouldn’t let me play.”
Schultz’s right leg was amputated before he was 2 and his left arm was incomplete at birth — about half the length of his right arm and his tiny hand was missing two fingers.
It never held him back, though. Just the opposite. Schultz graduated from Rutgers, ran an executive search firm in Madison for 32 years and published a memoir, “Short-Handed: A Young Boy’s Triumph Over Adversity.”
But some childhood memories are never forgotten. Watching Price playing baseball with the disabled kids on television, Schultz’s eyes filled with tears.
From across the room, Kathy says, “I know exactly what you’re going to do.”
Price’s field in Tennessee was part of a network of custom-designed fields for disabled kids called The Miracle League.
Schultz called its headquarters in Atlanta and spoke with a woman who said there were several Miracle League fields in Wisconsin — Green Bay, Appleton, Manitowoc, Milwaukee and more. Schultz asked if there was one in Madison.
“No one has ever contacted us about Madison,” the woman said.
“I might be your guy,” Schultz said. “I’d love to know more.”
It turned out there was an upcoming two-day orientation in Atlanta for communities considering building Miracle League fields. Schultz flew down for it.
“That confirmed everything I thought it was and more,” he said. It wasn’t just the kids who benefited. Volunteers — high school students and adults — working with them found unexpected rewards. “They realized,” Schultz says, “that the boundaries they thought these kids had weren’t necessarily accurate.”
In Atlanta, Schultz saw the field itself — a synthetic surface that allows kids with wheelchairs and walkers to navigate with the help of a volunteer. It’s colored to look like a Little League diamond — the infield appears to be dirt, and so on.
While the national organization is helpful in many ways, Miracle League communities fund the program themselves. The cost to build the complex — including the synthetic field, bleachers, wheelchair accessible dugouts, scoreboard and lighting — is roughly $420,000.
Since February 2019, Schultz has been devoting himself — “I gave up my day job,” he says, with a wry chuckle — to making a Madison area Miracle League a reality. He has a website and, thanks to the good folks in Cottage Grove, land for the field.
Village officials in Cottage Grove stepped up in a big way, offering space in Bakken Park that Schultz regards as nearly perfect, with a nearby parking lot and a playground for the siblings of participants.
Schultz currently has raised about $180,000, with grants from the Rennebohm Foundation, Goodman Foundation, Culver’s Foundation and individual donors. The goal is to have at least $300,000 raised by late summer this year when an asphalt base for the field would need to be set down if the hoped-for start of the league in spring 2021 is going to happen.
On Saturday, March 7, the Miracle League of Dane County is holding a day-long fundraiser at Oakstone Recreational, a restaurant and indoor volleyball facility in Cottage Grove. There will be a silent auction with Brewers tickets; sports memorabilia, including autographed baseballs; spa packages; health club memberships; rounds of golf and more. Videos showcasing the Miracle League will be shown, and Schultz will be on hand to answer questions.
Last week Schultz was recalling the Miracle League night the Mallards sponsored last July at the Duck Pond. It raised $4,000 and Schultz arranged with the team to have a 9-year-old autistic boy named Andrew throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“He was so excited,” Schultz said. When they got him out to the pitcher’s mound Schultz told Andrew that it would be OK to move up off the mound and closer to home plate for the pitch.
“Mr. Schultz,” he said, “I’m going to throw it from the pitcher’s mound.”
He one-hopped it to the catcher. And how much did it mean to Andrew? Three weeks later, Schultz got a text from Andrew’s dad. They were in a grocery store, just walking down an aisle, when Andrew turned and said, “Dad, I threw out the first pitch!”
That, Bill Schultz will tell you, is what it’s all about.
Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.