STE. GENEVIEVE, Mo. - People in the small town of Ste. Genevieve are proving even the biggest dreams really can come true. On Saturday, they celebrated the opening of the brand new Challenger Baseball Field and their own dedication toward making it a reality.
While the field was a community project, one young child was the inspiration behind the place where people of all ages, and ability, can play.
"Challenger baseball is for special needs children and adults. And it's about the inclusion," said Sarah Schott, who heads up the Challenger Baseball League in Ste. Genevieve. "We have a large community, believe it or not, of special needs individuals and they don't have that inclusion sport. This gives them that opportunity."
Opening Day at the Challenger Baseball Field:
"Challenger baseball is to make friends," said Buck Smith, who founded Challenger baseball in St. Louis 22 years ago. "Baseball is kind of a side thing we do. But we're really out here to make friends."
10 year-old Braden Schott loves playing baseball and he lives with non-verbal autism.
"Other than being non-verbal you wouldn't be able to tell he has a disability," said Braden's dad, Jason Schott.
When Braden's games got rained out a few seasons ago, he was bummed. But Jason came up with the idea to build a new turf field that would be accessible to everyone. That idea became the masterpiece that now sits behind the Ste. Genevieve Community Center.
The total cost was nearly a million dollars and most of the money and material came from people in and around Ste. Genevieve.
"You made a phone call and they're like sure, what do you need? Without a small community like this and the people that back the small community, we wouldn't be here today," said Jason Schott.
After a local woman sang the National Anthem and a priest blessed the field, members of all four Ste. Genevieve Challenger baseball teams took to the diamond Saturday afternoon for a pickup game.
St. Louis Cardinals mascot Fredbird even dropped in to surprise the players and throw a few pitches.
Amid all the smiles and high fives there was one somber moment when a plaque the shape of a baseball diamond was unveiled on the wall of the new concession stand. In center field was a tribute to Chris Carron, a young man who passed away in 2014 just before starting his first season of Challenger baseball.
The athletes on the field Saturday played on in memory of Chris. And the Ste. Genevieve community will have a place where generations of new athletes will get to play, regardless of the challenges they face in life.
"Just the whole community and everybody pulls together around the kids. And to see and give them that opportunity to play has just been priceless," said Sarah Schott.
The Challenger field will also be used for community games and by area high school baseball and softball teams.