In his vision, there was a way | Community Spirit
Story, photos and video by Chelsea Gilbertson
In the movie Field of Dreams, a farmer hears a voice whisper, “If you build it, he will come.” He looks out on his field and imagines a baseball diamond.
The vision soon becomes clear: In a field of corn, miracles can happen.
The late Joe Nuxhall had a similar vision for his beloved Fairfield, Ohio, community. The legendary Cincinnati Reds pitcher dreamed of a place in his hometown where people with disabilities could experience the joy and passion of the game.
Before his death in 2007, Joe began to plot a master plan for Miracle League fields, which are built for people with special needs. With the help of Joe’s son Kim, longtime friends Cliff Bown, Kenny Rogers and Larry Tischler, hundreds of volunteer workers and local construction companies, the plan has become a reality.
Opening day for The Joe Knuxhall Miracle League Fields in Fairfield is July 28.
The two rubberized-surfaced diamonds carved out of cornfields off Groh Lane cost nearly $3 million to develop. However, everything for the project was donated: the $70,000 LED-video scoreboard (which will show players as they approach the plate), the handrails, the LED-lit parking lot, the brick dugouts with handicap accessibility, the misting system for hot summer days, the Red Monster wall in left field (modeled after the Green Monster in Boston’s Fenway Park), and all of the labor. The City of Fairfield donated the land.
“People realize what he (Joe) was all about,” Kim said. “They realize that for Dad it was all about giving back. And I think that they wanted to be a part of that legacy, and they want to give back as well.
“As a family member that is very touching. I think it was that personal connection he had with people and the Reds that really brought this project together.”
The fields were dedicated on June 10, 68 years after Joe took to the mound as a 15 1/2-year-old in his major-league debut. The ceremonial ribbon-cutting was a tribute to all the workers and companies that donated their time and product.
For Bown, being a part of this project meant more than just helping out an old friend.
“Within our family, no one is handicapped or has special needs,” he said. “We have been so blessed, and [therefore] it really touches our hearts to be able to help these people and these children. It gives them something that they never dreamed of before.”
The fields will get a lot of activity. Fairfield already has a Therapeutic Recreation for the Disabled Softball League. “They are ready to play (on the fields) as we speak,” Kim said.
In addition, local YMCAs are developing a youth league, Kim said. “We are reaching out to disabled veterans and senior citizens as well,” he said. “Our goal is to make sure that this facility is being used day-in, day-out, 24-7, non-stop from spring to fall.”
Under the Fairfield Community Foundation’s Joe Knuxhall Hope Project, five legacies were created in Nuxhall’s memory: the Joe Nuxhall Scholarship fund, Joe Nuxhall Character fund, Reds Rookie Success League in Butler County, Joe Nuxhall Children Center and the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Foundation.
All embrace the community’s next generation of stars: from children, to high school students, to those who are disabled or mentally impaired. Joe had a place for everyone.
“We like to think of them as the five passions of Joe,” said Betsy Hope, president of the Fairfield Community Foundation. “Even though he died (five years ago), he still lives on in all of these great projects.”
The foundation’s official spokesgirl, 14-year-old Karlee Thomas, and former Cincinnati Reds first baseman Sean Casey will be among the first to welcome everyone on opening day.
Thomas, who uses a wheelchair, will take her first at bat. She’s excited, to say the least.
“On opening day I’m going to speak out on the field and tell everyone how great this is for special needs children and adults,” she said.
Chelsea Gilbertson is a journalism student at the University of Cincinnati and on the staff of the department’s New Media Bureau.