Del Mar couple helping hundreds of special needs kids through the miracle of baseball

By Arthur Lightbourn

For Dan Engel, former Wall Street investment banker, the Miracle League of San Diego, was aptly named — in more ways than one.

Dan and his wife, Suzie, co-founded the nonprofit organized baseball league for handicapped kids five years ago and for the past three years Dan has served as its president.

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Suzie and Dan Engel (Photo: Jon Clark)

Partnering with the County Parks and Recreation Department and with the support of the San Diego Padres, the Engels converted a weed-infested field in San Dieguito Park into the first “Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible” ball field of its kind in Southern California — complete with a rubberized playing surface for the kids’ safety and their ease of running bases with a wheelchair or walker, an electronic scoreboard, a state-of-the-art PA (public address) system, bleacher-seating and a snack bar that serves hot dogs.

At its core, it gives boys and girls with physical or mental disabilities the miracle experience of playing baseball as part of a team in an organized league on Saturdays, bringing together hundreds of players, parents, coaches, buddies, volunteers and fans.

But, for Dan Engel, it’s also been a “spiritual” journey and a contributing factor in the medical “miracle” that has saved his life.

We interviewed the Engels at the Stratford Court Café in Del Mar. They had just moved into their new home in Del Mar after living many years in Carmel Valley.

Engel, 50, and bald after undergoing numerous variations of chemo, more than 10 surgeries and participating in a clinical trial of an experimental drug for combating melanoma, is a cancer survivor. He was first diagnosed 12 years ago.

“I had Stage 4 melanoma while we were getting the field built,” he said, “and I’ve been in remission essentially since we opened [in 2007]. So it’s been a very spiritual place for me.”

“Dan, with all his health issues,’ his wife Suzie said, “had a great attitude and we’re convinced that his attitude and Miracle [League] really gave him the boosts, mentally and physically, to keep him alive.”

Dan credits Suzie, the varsity tennis coach at Westview High School, with coming up with the idea of creating a Miracle League here in San Diego after they watched a story on HBO’s Real Sports about the Miracle League organization, which was first formed in Georgia in 2000 and has since grown to 240 leagues nationwide.

The Miracle League of San Diego was formed as a nonprofit in 2005 and the field was opened in May 2007, attracting 170 to 190 players annually.

The concept behind Miracle League, Dan said, is: “Every child deserves a chance to play baseball. It’s as simple as that.”

Dan was born in Los Angeles. Suzie was born in Worchester, Mass., and was raised in San Diego. Both of their fathers were CPAs. They met in New York City where Dan was working with investment banker Salomon Bros. and Suzie was visiting from Los Angeles where she was employed as a financial assistant at Fox Broadcasting.

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