By Emily Waldon
There’s just something about a baseball field.
While other sports carry their own traditions, baseball embodies a nostalgia for its rich history and maintains the ability to reach generation after generation. Father to son, grandfather to granddaughter. Each time a story is told, the home runs get longer, and the catches more elaborate.
The admiration for the game has not waivered for Zeeland resident Tony Comden, and as any father would be, was excited to introduce baseball to his two children.
“When I was a kid, my dad coached me,” Comden remembers. “Some of my finest memories were playing Little League baseball.”
While his daughter Riley, and son Jed, were equally enthusiastic to learn the game, the family would come to the realization that Jed’s journey to pursue baseball would produce a path far from ordinary.
During the Christmas season of 2006, the family decided to take their 2½ year old son to get checked out after he had been repeatedly losing his balance.
The life of the Comden family came to a screeching halt after the medical staff notified them of a cancerous tumor that had embedded itself into the stem of Jed’s brain.
After a rigorous rehabilitation process that followed his surgery, involving six months of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, Jed was able to return home the summer of the following year. The months that followed become dedicated to physical therapy appointments and helping Jed start his life from scratch. Everything from sitting up unassisted to feeding himself had been erased due to the trauma caused by the effects of the tumor.
During a visit to Pittsburgh in 2009, Comden was introduced to The Miracle League Organization during a ceremony held before a Pirates game to honor the gentleman who had started a branch in Western Pennsylvania. Observing the accomplishments of the Miracle League hit much closer to home for Comden than he was expecting.
“They showed this video of kids playing Miracle League baseball and I just start tearing up and thought wow because at that point Jed was using a walker,” Comden said. “He had actually played T-ball for a couple years in a conventional T-ball league using his walker, which is a really amazing thing to see. “
He began fiercely devoting his time to gathering both financial and community support to invest in creating a branch of The Miracle League in West Michigan. The efforts of Comden and multiple exceptionally generous individuals began to pour both time and notable financial investments into the vision.
The investment into the league has been providing the opportunity for anywhere from 40-60 disabled children twice a year to venture onto a field they may never have gotten the chance to experience.
“It’s not disabled kids, because then the disability defines them,” Comden said. “That only happens if you let it happen, and these kids don’t let that happen.”
Another piece of Comden’s dream will become realized on Aug. 1 with the grand opening of the Art Van Sports Complex in Rockford. With the backing of Dan DeVos and the West Michigan Sports Commission, the West Michigan Miracle League has no plans of slowing down.
They have already begun working to raise finances to open a disability accessible playground near the baseball field.
“We’re celebrating what they can do and not what they can’t do,” Comden said. “It really changes your mindset when you look at limitations from that perspective.”
As for the walker once used by now cancer-free, 10 year old, Jed?
“It’s sitting in the corner of the garage collecting dust,” Comden said smiling.
Emily Waldon was raised in Howard City and currently resides in Wyoming, Mich. A lifelong sports enthusiast, she also enjoys photography, traveling and bringing a fresh outlook to the world of athletics, both collegiate and professional. She can be reached at email@example.com.