Harvey Herslip has seen firsthand how much joy a simple game of baseball can bring children, and he intends to give a special team their very own field of dreams.
It all began for Herslip several years ago when his granddaughter Grace, who is now 11, started playing on the Dream Catchers, a baseball team for children with disabilities. Grace has Down syndrome, and the Dream Catchers allowed her to enjoy America's pastime as much as any other child.
The team plays its games on the softball diamonds of South Hill Complex, but Herslip soon discovered they were less than ideal for many of the Dream Catchers' players. The soft ground of the infield and outfield made it difficult for children with wheelchairs or walkers to move around, a problem that was only compounded when the field was wet after it rained.
Dan Feldner/MDN • Harvey Herslip sits with two pictures of a baseball field in Moorhead, Minn., with a rubberized surface that children with disabilities can play on. He is working to build a similar field in Minot, which would be the first of its kind in North Dakota.
"After watching, I just figured there had to be something better for some of the kids," Herslip said. "She's not physically disabled, but for some of the kids with braces and walkers and wheelchairs, playing on the softball fields with the gravel was very difficult."
Other teams who use the field also get priority, so the Dream Catchers have to move if someone else shows up.
Herslip now has two more grandchildren involved with the Dream Catchers. His daughter, Paula Burckhard, and her husband Kevin adopted Bella, now 6, from Ukraine about two years ago, and Nole, now 4, from Serbia in March of this year. Bella and Nole also have Down syndrome, and Herslip said his three grandchildren are the light of the family's life.
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This gave him even more incentive to find a field better suited to all the children in the Dream Catchers. After doing some research on the Internet, Herslip found a website called Miracle Field and had some conversations with the person in charge about baseball fields.
"He gave me all kinds of information on how you could set up a field that was specially made, designed for children who can't participate in the regular activities on a regular field, and it's called Miracle Field," Herslip said.
The base of the field is made with 48 inches of gravel, followed by 3 inches of either concrete or asphalt, and then 1 to 2 inches of a rubberized coating is sprayed on to make the final playing surface. The color for the infield, outfield and chalk lines is mixed in with the coating so there is minimal upkeep.
The field is smaller than a standard one, and will be 125 feet to center field, 120 feet down the lines, and have bases 45 feet apart. It will also have fencing all the way around, and eventually Herslip would like to add some protection from the sun.
"Some of these kids really have difficulty with sunlight, heat, and I'd like to have ... a covering that's nylon netting that kind of looks like mesh," Herslip said. "You can put it in different shapes and it's very attractive, and it would give them shade and can be taken down in the wintertime."
With all that information in hand, Herslip made a model of what the field might look like and presented it to his son-in-law, Kevin, and Michelle Bliven, who founded the Dream Catchers in 2003.
"I asked them what they thought of such a thing and they were all just in favor of it," Herslip said.
The next step was to figure out how much it would cost and where to put it. Herslip talked to Scott Collins, the auditorium and recreation director of the Minot Recreation Commission, who loved the idea and was able to donate some land at South Hill Complex for the field.
When he looked into the price, the field proved to be an expensive proposition at $225,000.
Undaunted, Herslip then figured out how to fund it. Herslip and his daughter Paula started looking into grant-writing opportunities. They found out writing grants required that they be a 501(c)(3), or nonprofit, organization.
Herslip then went to the Minot Park Board with his idea. They were so impressed they allowed him to write grants through the nonprofit Minot Park Board Foundation.
With the park board's support, Herslip has been able to secure several large grants, including from the Bremer Foundation, Minot Area Community Foundation, Scheels and even the Minnesota Twins. Combined with other donations from many area businesses and residents, Herslip has managed to raise around $180,000 since the project began two years ago.
Herslip said anyone wanting to make a donation can contact him at 833-2503 or Marlene at the park district office at 857-4136.
Other donations have come in the form of much-needed expertise. Roger Kluck, assistant vice president for facilities management at Minot State University, is helping with the engineering work, while EAPC Architects did the drawings. At the moment he is waiting for Ackerman-Estvold Engineering, who is pretty tied up with flood-related business at the moment, to do a topography study.
Herslip is hopeful to start on the field in the spring and have it in at least playable condition by mid-summer.
"We're ready," Herslip said. "We have enough money raised right now to get started."
Herslip, a Newburg native, has a varied background that's given him much experience to draw upon while planning the field. He was an educator for 40 years before retiring in 2002, spending time teaching in Ryder, Plaza and Butte, as well as in Minot Public Schools and at Minot State University.
Along the way he has also been a construction worker, crop insurance adjuster and car salesman. He even has his own small construction business, Dakota Plains Construction LLC, which he started in 2003 and still runs to this day.
"As long as I'm healthy I'll keep doing it because I just can't stand not to be doing something," Herslip said.
Needless to say, Herslip agreed his wife of 52 years, Florence, is probably glad to get him out of the house so often.
Although Herslip certainly keeps himself busy, his is slowing down just a little bit.
"And another thing I just retired from after 40 years is tax preparation," he said. "I used to do a lot of that, and I decided last year at the end of the year that was my last year. And what a good year to pick, because boy it's going to be a mess because of this flood stuff."
The enormous amount of time and effort Herslip has put into making the new baseball field a reality for the Dream Catchers shows just how much the organization means to him and how grateful he is to Michelle Bliven for creating it and keeping it going all these years. Perhaps a sentiment Herslip found and put in one of the proposals for the new field, which he recited by heart, best sums up his feelings on the matter.
"If I were to tell you about an organized youth baseball league, you might call it ordinary. If I were to tell you the athletes are physically and mentally challenged, you might call it touching," Herslip said. "If you were to see them play, you would call it a miracle."