Ray Tanner Foundation co-founder Karen Tanner could not contain her excitement as she was leaving the groundbreaking.
"What a great day," Karen Tanner said. "I mean, awesome."
The huge smile on the face of Karen Tanner was also on the face of her husband and South Carolina athletics director, Ray Tanner, and really everyone in attendance at Owens Field Park on the morning of Saturday, Aug. 20.
The excitement was well warranted. It was a special day that so many had been looking forward to for a long time.
The groundbreaking for the Miracle League Baseball field at Owens Field Park is the culmination of a dream that Ray Tanner has had for a long time.
In fact, after leading South Carolina to back-to-back national championships as the then head baseball coach in 2010 and 2011, Ray Tanner helped put together the book "Carolina Baseball Pressure Makes Diamonds: The Official Authorized History of the National Champion Gamecocks" with many of the proceeds from the book going to help pave the way for the Miracle League Baseball field.
"This is special," Ray Tanner told Spurs & Feathers. "This is of all of the things that I've been involved in over the years, it's an exciting day. This started many years ago when I was exposed to the Miracle Leagues and the Miracle fields that exist around the country. Then I had a young man that was my manager and then coach in Fox Beyer (1998-02) and I learned about it, and this was something I wanted to be a part of."
Beyer was born with cerebral palsy, but he had a huge passion for baseball and he helped Gamecock baseball tremendously during his time with the program.
Beyer as noted by Ray Tanner changed his outlook on life, and unbeknownst to him at the time he also helped start the process of making a Miracle League Baseball field in the Midlands happen.
"You say people make a difference in your life, Fox Beyer has made a difference in my life," Ray Tanner told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in May of 2001. "The day that I met him, started working with him, my whole outlook about life changed. You know, I always tried to do things right and live life the right way, but never appreciated it enough until I met Fox."
That appreciation for Beyer and the Miracle Baseball League led Tanner to believe that all should be able to play the game he loves so much.
"I'm looking forward to watching young people play," Tanner said. "Whether you're a young boy or a young girl and you have a disability, you should be able to enjoy the game of softball or the game of baseball, and this field will enable that to happen."
A Miracle League Baseball field is a custom-designed, rubberized turf field that allows children with mental and physical disabilities the opportunity to safely play baseball and softball, and while the Tanners and the Ray Tanner Foundation might have been the initial proponents of making the field a reality, it truly was a group effort.
"The City of Columbia, Richland County and so many other entities have joined forces to make this day become a reality," Ray Tanner said. "We have a lot going on in the City of Columbia with the Gamecocks and baseball and softball and the Fireflies, and now with the Miracle field, I've got another stop on my trips around the city."
A member of the University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame, Gamecock men's tennis legend Seth Rose was also in attendance for the groundbreaking. Rose is currently the Richland County Councilman for District Five, which includes most of downtown Columbia and the Rosewood Community where the Miracle Baseball League field at Owens Field Park will be located.
Like Tanner, Rose was thrilled with the way all entities involved came together to make this just over $1.3 million project that also includes a boundless playground, renovations of ball fields, walkways, vehicular round-about and stormwater improvements a reality.
"One of the things that I've learned since being in office is that it's difficult to get a lot of different entities on the same page, and that's what happened here," Rose said. "A lot of different entities - public and private - came together to do something amazing for our community. It's awesome."
South Carolina men's basketball great and current City of Columbia superintendent for recreation Carey Rich was also in attendance for the groundbreaking. Rich is excited to be able to add the Miracle League Baseball field to the offerings that the City of Columbia Parks and Recreation is able to provide.
"When you consider who it's going to impact in kids that normally would not be able to enjoy normal recreation, and now this gives them an opportunity to do just that it's special," Rich said. "That partnership and the collaborations and how everyone came together, I think it speaks volumes of the togetherness in this city to have an opportunity to impact a segment of kids that otherwise probably would not have this opportunity."
Rich knows that opportunity would never have happened without Ray and Karen Tanner.
"The one thing about Ray and Karen Tanner is that a lot of people talk about it, but they live it and it's something that they are very, very serious about," Rich said. "You understand why when you look at the amount of community service hours that the athletes over at South Carolina have done and been a part of, now you understand why. He doesn't just give it as a directive. He just doesn't give instructions. He gives instructions, but he also lives it. The leader is about leading by example. He epitomizes that. He and his wife, Karen, they epitomize that."
Rose like Rich knows that the efforts by Ray Tanner and South Carolina athletics in the Midlands and the Palmetto State are not done at institutions everywhere, and for going above and beyond he is incredibly thankful.
"It's very special," Rose said. "I couldn't be more proud of the University and the athletics department. Not just for what they're doing in athletics, but what they're doing in the community. Coach Tanner is not only a Gamecock, but he's a member of the Columbia community, and to see our University giving back and being involved, I couldn't be more proud."
**Story and photo by Brian Hand**