MIAMI -- The smiles, laughter and pure joy at Marlins Park on Friday afternoon was a reminder that baseball can touch people in many ways.
Major League Baseball and the Marlins hosted the Miracle League/Special Olympics Game, and every player was a star.
"These kids got to take the field where the All-Stars will take the field on Tuesday," Marlins president David Samson said. "The smiles that they had and the memories they'll make -- I don't know how you can top that."
There were 30 players, each with a buddy, bringing the total to 60 children with special needs who had a chance to play baseball on the field that will host the All-Star Game presented by Mastercard. The players wore uniforms identical to what the All-Stars from the National League and American League will wear. Jerseys were provided by Baseball Fantasy Camp for Kids.
"For all of us, you just think of what the All-Star Game means in Miami," Samson said. "It means that these kids have jerseys with their names on their backs and they're on a big league baseball field, making memories that last a lifetime."
The Miracle League/Special Olympics Game featured young people who are currently involved with the Miracle League of Miami-Dade County and the Special Olympics Florida. The game was played on the outfield grass in left field, with every player batting and having the ability to run the bases and play the field.
"If you've never seen these kids come out here and play a ballgame, the joy that they get from being on the field and doing this, you just haven't seen pure joy," said Jeff Conine, the former Marlins standout who won the All-Star Most Valuable Player Award in 1995. "These kids love coming out here."
Karl Sturge, co-chairman of the Miracle League, called Friday an "outstanding day for our children, the Special Olympics children.
"It's what drives us as board members to make this happen," Sturge said. "Not only do you see smiles on the field, you look in the stands for even an hour, some of these parents get relief for what is a 24-hour job for them. They get to sit in the stands and be like any other parents. The smiles out here are no bigger than they are in the stands for their parents."
Conine was one of four former Marlins players to take part in the event, joined by Gaby Sanchez, Antonio Alfonseca and Placido Polanco.
"I think today is just really celebrating the sport of baseball and the potential of what you can become as a champion through sport," said Sherry Wheelock. CEO and president of Special Olympics Florida. "It really is a great way to see inclusion happening within our community and really celebrate the abilities of some wonderful people today."