Tammy and Jerry Carlisle and their household of eight special needs children, six of whom play in the Mauldin Miracle League, make the games a part of each of their Saturdays Matt Burkhartt, The Greenville News

MAULDIN – Elijah Carlisle anxiously steps to the plate, baseball bat in hand and hopes of a hit twinkling in his eyes.

Much to his delight, there is no shortage of vocal support from the crowd gathered at Mauldin’s Sunset Park on a Saturday morning in May.

“Next up is Elijah, from the baseball powerhouse of Carlisle farms,” announces Jeff Powers, prompting a smattering of chuckles.

Indeed, the Carlisle family of Simpsonville has produced many a player for the Mauldin Miracle League in recent years – nine players overall, including six players during the current spring season.

Five-year-old Elijah is the youngest; 20-year-old Tonesha, or Tia, the eldest.

In between one will find four other Carlisles wearing the shirts of the “Drive Red” squad – Skyler 7; Serenity, 8; Journey, 11; and David, 19.

Elijah makes contact, which is the goal of the Mauldin Miracle League, both literally and figuratively.

Tammy Carlisle cheers on her daughter Serenity, 7, during her Mauldin Miracle League baseball game with her siblings at Sunset Park, Saturday, May, 4, 2019.

(Photo: MATT BURKHARTT/Staff)

“When you’re out there with them for two seasons a year for this many years, you become close and really build relationships,” said Tammy Carlisle, mom to Elijah and seven other special needs children. “In a typical league they would age out. But my 19- and 20-year-olds play on the same team as my 5-year-old.”

The Mauldin Miracle League has been affording this opportunity for special needs young people since its founding 15 years ago by Dennis Raines. The league is a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization with a simple mission – namely, to give every child a chance to play baseball.

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“The part that I enjoy is seeing children with physical or mental challenges go out and play the game,” said Powers, who serves as the league’s director. “It’s great because we don’t have to worry whether the ball is hit or how many strikes you’re going to get. The goal of the league is to have fun. We’re trying to teach the fundamentals of baseball, but we’re not worried about churning out baseball players.

“It’s also important for the parents and families, who sit in the stands and develop camaraderie and have the ability to share with other parents.”

The league, which draws players from a five-county area in the Upstate, also conducts a fall season in September and October and serves approximately 140 young people between its two seasons each year.

Tia Carlisle, 20, looks to her mom, Tammy Carlisle as she begins to run the bases during her Mauldin Miracle League baseball game with her siblings at Sunset Park, Saturday, May, 4, 2019.

“They’re learning from each other and you get to see the progress from one season to the next,” said Carlisle, who has had kids playing in the league for each of the last eight years. “It’s more of a family, community type situation than just a ball team.

“We’re building relationships with people who are like-minded. They all have some special thing about them, to the point that it makes my kids not feel different. They feel included, they feel a part of it. I love that they feel normal. I can’t even tell you how important it has been for us to be part of this.”

Originally from Winter Haven, Florida, the Carlisles visited Greenville while on vacation in 2010 and left duly impressed.

“We just fell in love with the area,” said Jerry Carlisle, the patriarch of the family who works as a hospice nurse. “We decided that if we could find a house and I could get a job, we’d move here. We moved two months later.”

They also wasted little time in finding the Mauldin Miracle League, and like the countless families who have participated in the league are appreciative of the organizations, businesses, volunteers and charitable contributions that keep the group thriving.

Local college and high school baseball teams and other groups regularly serve as “buddies,” assisting the players with batting, running and fielding. The minor league Greenville Drive baseball team of the Class A South Atlantic League hosts the players at downtown Greenville’s Fluor Field once each year.

Despite the frenetic pace around the Carlisle home on Saturday mornings, each game is special and highly anticipated.

Alarm clocks blare early, followed by breakfast and uniforms and caps and excitement.

“It’s chaotic,” Tammy says. “And wonderful.”

By 9:30, the Carlisle’s 15-passenger van is filled.

By 10 a.m., the game is under way, and the fun is contagious.

“We cheer for everything,” Tammy says.

Anything goes. In his first few games, Elijah would hit the ball, drop his bat and immediately retrieve his own ball before running the bases.

No problem.

David Carlisle, 19, Tia Carlisle, 20, Skyler Carlisle, 7, wait in their family’s 15-passenger-van with their siblings before their Mauldin Miracle League baseball game at Sunset Park, Saturday, May, 4, 2019.

When she hits the ball, Tia always focuses her stare behind the fence to confirm that her parents are watching. Later, when she crosses home plate, she makes a beeline to Tammy for a high five, as does each member of the Carlisle contingent.

No score is kept.

Everyone’s happy.

All the players get to bat and get a hit.

Some players run to first base; others run wherever their legs or wheels will carry them.

There’s cheering and clapping and smiling and words of encouragement for each player.

“I love the fact that the kids are accepted for who they are,” Tammy said. “I don’t think my kids know that this is a special league. They just know that they put on their uniforms and they go play ball. And that means everything.”

The Saturday gets even better if Jerry Carlisle decides to make a pit stop on the way home for slushees.

When the crowd piles out of the van, many observers ask Jerry and Tammy if they run a day care.

“No,” they reply. “They’re all ours.”

At home, the fun and games continue.

“People come into our home and it’s loud,” Tammy said. “It can be overwhelming.”

And, more often than not, wonderful.

“When you open your heart,” Tammy says, “and invite people in, family happens.”

For more information on the Mauldin Miracle League, visit www.mauldinmiracleleague.com or contact Jeff Powers at (864) 303-2362 or jefflori123@charter.net

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