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Duane Sparks: The Legend of Fairfield

The Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields are more than a group of fields. It’s more than a place: it’s a team of players, parents, volunteers and fans that team up to provide everyone with a chance to play the game of baseball. 


Not many people exemplify this message more than the Sparks family. 


Jean Sparks has been part of the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields since the beginning. In fact, one of Jean’s greatest memories was the opening of the fields and the players coming out of the cornfields with Reds hall of famer Sean Casey.  


“When they came out of the cornfield, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Jean said. “I mean, everyone was crying. It was just fantastic seeing the ballplayers coming out.”


Jean’s son, Duane, has been playing in the Nuxhall Miracle Leagues from the very start.


Jean and Duane Sparks standing in front of a Joe Nuxhall bobblehead on the Skidmore Sales Mini Golf Club.

“Duane has a lot of motor skill problems, so he has to hit from a tee, which is fine,” Jean said. “But he tries his best and that’s all we can ask, and he has fun and that’s all we want.”


More importantly than the stats Duane puts on the field are the memories and friendships that he has made from playing for so many years. 


“The love, the camaraderie, all the friendships, you meet people from all over,” Jean said. “We have people come from Kentucky and Indiana, and he’s made friends with them. There’s not a stranger that walks up those steps. Anybody that walks up those steps is his friend.”


What’s so impressive about Duane, though, are his vast interests and abilities outside of baseball. 


Duane Sparks with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine at the Special Olympics State Championships.

Duane, who turned 56 on July 4th, has been part of Special Olympics since he was 8 years old. Last month, he competed in the state championships in track and field in Columbus in the 4x100 relay and 100 meter dash, as well as the softball throwing competition. He also plays basketball with Special Olympics.


But it’s not just athletics that interest Duane.

Duane getting into his batting stance.

“He’s also an artist at the InsideOut Studio in Hamilton,” Jean said. “It’s a studio that is for people with disabilities. All the art is made there is showcased and sold at their retail store, and the artists get to make money from the sale of their pieces.” The studio features work involving glassware, jewelry, picture frames, paintings as well as clay pieces. 


Duane Sparks receiving an award for his artwork (blue dish featured in case).

Duane primarily does glass and clay and also dabbles in painting. Jean said that some of Duane’s pieces have been received so well that they have won awards. 


“There was one show up in Dayton, we got a monetary award plus the money that it sold for,” Jean said. 


But yet, that’s still not all that Duane is known for. Duane worked at Skyline Chili in Fairfield for 35 years where he was a dishwasher, bus boy and greeter. His retirement in 2021 featured stories from Channel 9 as well as the Hamilton Journal-News. Duane's celebration also featured appearances from some prominent community members. 


Duane celebrating his retirement from Skyline Chili on Hicks Boulevard in Fairfield.

“All three of the stations of the Fairfield Fire Department stopped by to congratulate him, the mayor of Fairfield came and gave him a ride in his corvette,” Jean said. “Duane is somewhat of a celebrity in Fairfield.”


Throughout all of that, though, it’s baseball at the Nuxhall Miracle League Fields with the family that they know so well that Jean and Duane love the most.


“You can’t say enough about the fields. All the friends we have met, I enjoy it as much as the players do,” Jean said. “Come on out.”


You may even see a local celebrity.


 

About The Nuxhall Foundation: The Nuxhall Foundation is the legacy foundation for former Major League Baseball pitcher and longtime Cincinnati Reds broadcaster, the late Joe Nuxhall. The Nuxhall Foundation carries forward three important legacy projects. A central project of The Nuxhall Foundation is The Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields—an entirely accessible baseball and recreational facility where every player with every challenge gets every chance to play. Historically, nearly 300 athletes with physical and developmental disabilities aged 4 to 80 participate in programs at the Miracle League Fields. The Joe Nuxhall Memorial Scholarship (in conjunction with the Fairfield Community Foundation) provides nearly $30,000 per year in scholarship money to student athletes at all 14 Butler County high schools. Very soon, the Joe Nuxhall Memorial Scholarship will cross the million-dollar mark in scholarship money awarded. The Joe Nuxhall Character Education Fund pitches good character to young leaders throughout Greater Cincinnati by delivering and supporting programs that stress the importance of integrity, humility, respect, and kindness. In 2024, The Nuxhall Foundation will launch a $12 million capital campaign to construct The Hope Center, a year-round recreational facility for athletes with special needs that will help to create the world's most comprehensive athletic campus for individuals with disabilities. 

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