Updated: Sep 5
FAIRFIELD, OH (September 1, 2023)—For years, Joe Nuxhall traveled the country as a player and broadcaster, staying in hotels, riding on buses, and visiting ballparks of all different varieties, making new friends in every city along the way.
Now, the special needs athletes from his hometown, wearing his name across their jerseys, got to experience that same adventure.
For the first-time in the history of The Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields, 24 special needs athletes and their families—along with a dedicated crew of volunteers and supporters—took part in a travel team experience, journeying to The Ripken Experience in Pigeon Forge, TN to play the game that Joe Nuxhall loved.
VIDEO: Miracle Series 2023 (Produced by Larry & Debi Handley of Little Brown Dog Productions)
The program, dubbed “The Miracle Series,” took part within the larger Black Bear Tournament being held at The Ripken Experience, which hosted more than 1,200 athletes from across the United States. Only four Miracle League teams in the country were invited to participate in this barrier-breaking baseball experience: The Miracle League of the South Hills, PA (the host team), The Miracle League of Mercer County, NJ, and The Miracle League of Sioux City, IA.
“In his more than 60 years in professional baseball, Dad took a lot of roadtrips,” says Kim Nuxhall, President and Board Chairman of The Nuxhall Foundation. “But this one, by far, would have been his absolute favorite because of all of you who work hand-in-hand to achieve the dreams we have for our players. Our athletes have given us the experience of a lifetime through this trip, and folks, we are just getting started.”
Marking Miles, Making History
On July 29, families traveled the 311 miles from the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields to Pigeon Forge individually, and were welcomed to a two-night stay at The Wilderness at the Smokies Waterpark Resort & Family Adventure Center. With massive indoor and outdoor waterparks, and more than 12 different dining options on site, the team hotel provided the perfect combination of luxury and fun for participating families, many of whom turned the trip into a great summer vacation.
PHOTO GALLERY: MIRACLE SERIES 2023 (Photo Credit: Jeff Weeks, Steve Schwartz, Linda Dragan)
(Scroll left to right to view all photos.)
The following day, players and families loaded a charter bus and made their grand entrance to The Ripken Experience Pigeon Forge—a beautiful, one-of-a-kind baseball campus with big-league amenities surrounded on all sides by the awe-inducing majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Prior to the first slate of games, the athletes, volunteers, and even the organization’s mascot Joey The Can-Do Kangaroo took part in an opening ceremony, where the tournament’s MLB Ambassador, former player and manager Mike Matheny, talked about the life-changing effect of watching a Miracle League game.
“If you want to see baseball at its purest, and if you want to see baseball at its finest, go and watch these Miracle League athletes compete,” said Matheny to the more than 1,200 players participating in the tournament.
And once it was time to play ball, those players and families heeded Matheny’s advice and watched athletes with physical and developmental disabilities prove that baseball is for all.
Wins For The Soul
The athletes crushed hits up the middle. The spectators who made the journey from Cincinnati cheered with wild enthusiasm and homemade signs. Joey The Can-Do Kangaroo made new friends from all over the country. And with every hit, every play, and every smile, monumental miracles were made.
For everyone who made the trip, the experience was about more than playing a baseball game; it was about proving that athletes with special needs can achieve tremendous, incredible feats in the same way that Nuxhall overcame the odds as the youngest pitcher to ever play in a major league game.
“There is absolutely no quit in our athletes and families—none whatsoever,” says Tyler Bradshaw, Executive Director of The Nuxhall Foundation. “This was a new adventure for all of us, and there were a lot of unknowns in planning a trip for so many players, families, and volunteers; but everyone who joined us trusted us with their dreams, and they soaked up every single moment of what this trip meant for their lives and our organization. I’m unbelievably proud of them.”
In addition to players, a crew of nearly 15 JNMLF volunteers and coaches made the trip and were “all-in” to help make the travel tournament a success, announcing games, umpiring, coaching, and ensuring that athletes had everything they needed to make miracles.
Great Miami Valley YMCA Youth League Director Jennie Endsley, and Therapeutic Recreation for the Disabled Adult League Director Steve Smith—both of whom put in countless hours preparing for the trip and organizing teams—were blown away by the sense of community that was built through this first travel team experience.
“This was like one big family vacation,” says Endsley. “The community that was built amongst all of our participants is so valuable.”
“One of my favorite parts of this experience was seeing our families make the trip who didn’t even have a child or family member on the team,” says Smith. “Just to see them sitting in the stands cheering on their fellow all-stars…that’s what it’s all about.”
For Heather Hodges, mother of JNMLF youth league all-star Lila Hodges, the trip provided perspective and represented all the hopes she had for her daughter to experience joy and a sense of team belonging.
“Sometimes it’s easy to focus on the hard in life, especially when it’s your kid and it’s no fault of their own,” says Hodges. “The things they can’t do, the things they miss out on…It can really get to you, even when you least expect it. This weekend was a dream of Kim Nuxhall and Sean Casey and every single person involved was all in. It was an amazing experience filled with baseball (both playing and watching), friendships, waterpark slides, ice cream and fudge, lots of cheering, and many happy tears.”
Christina Lillich, mother of JNMLF youth league all-star Ronan Lillich, talked about the pride she experienced watching her son play on a big stage.
“I can’t count the times I cried because it was too many,” says Lillich. “To feel the love, encouragement, and pure joy not only for the team but parents and families shows me there is a place for all. It was so special to see Ronan in his uniform and playing on those fields.”
But for Lillich, the trip was also about more than watching her son shine.
“The moments that encouraged me most involved seeing our adult league play. This is our future, and to see their joy made me pause and envision what we have to look forward to. I was also brought to tears when other teams stopped to cheer on our teams. These coaches showing the importance of inclusion was extremely encouraging.”
“Fulfilling Life” Through Partnership with Ameritas and Community of Sponsors
The trip was generously supported by Ameritas, a loyal and steady sponsor of The Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields. Their financial commitment helped to keep participation costs low and provide for trip essentials, like lodging, travel, and team supplies.
“The Miracle League trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, provides an opportunity for the players to experience a game on the road like so many other select baseball teams get to do during the summer,” says Dave Voelker, Ameritas senior vice president, individual operations. “Ameritas is excited to be part of it and help create lasting memories for the players and their families.”
In addition, JNMLF all-stars played with style and swag thanks to an incredible partnership with Headlines Sportswear in Hamilton. The company provided custom uniform sets—including jerseys, practice t-shirts, shorts, and hats—to every player, along with full coaching gear for volunteers and league officials. The jerseys were custom designed and inspired by Joe Nuxhall’s lifetime association with the Cincinnati Reds. The donation of uniform and apparel sets from Headlines Sportswear totaled more than $8,000 in value.
“The Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields are changing the fabric of our community,” said Ben Cosgrove, President of Headlines Sportswear, while unveiling the jerseys to players and families before the trip. “We want to do our part to help change that community fabric through the gift of fabric, and we are honored to support the work being done here.”
Each participating athlete also received a Cincinnati Reds gear backpack and a batting helmet donated by The Reds Community Fund. Reds Community Fund Executive Director Charley Frank presented the gear to each athlete at the Nuxy Bash Presented by Ameritas held at the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields in late July.
A Mountain of Memories
For The Nuxhall Foundation, the 2023 trip to Pigeon Forge is only the start to an inclusion-centered program that will grow at an amazing clip in the years ahead.
“In 2024, we plan to load up the bus and take more than 40 athletes to Sean Casey’s Miracle League of the South Hills in Pittsburgh, which will coincide with a Reds and Pirates game at PNC Park,” says Bradshaw. Then, in 2025, the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields hope to welcome back Casey’s South Hills Pirates to Fairfield, with an invitation to host other Miracle Leagues from across the country in the years that follow.
At the end of the two days of baseball, JNMLF athletes and team manager, Cincinnati Reds batboy Teddy Kremer, were awarded medals and championship rings by The Ripken Experience. Kim, Phil, and Bonnie Nuxhall were on hand to help award the medals and received a championship bat from The Ripken Experience to commemorate the historic nature of this game-changing trip.
All the while, through tears and a smile hidden under his JNMLF bucket hat, Kim Nuxhall reflected on what the dream meant for an organization that has become his life’s work.
“How we play baseball is secondary to how we treat people,” says Nuxhall. “The players and families who made this trip were treated like all-stars by every staff member at The Ripken Experience, every volunteer from our organization and others, and every coach and player in the Black Bear tournament who came to watch our athletes showcase their skills. That’s champion-caliber-character that stands taller than any mountain on this beautiful horizon—and our world needs more moments like these. We can’t wait to make them happen.”
About The Nuxhall Foundation
The Nuxhall Foundation is the legacy foundation for former Major League Baseball pitcher and longtime Cincinnati Reds broadcaster, Joe Nuxhall. 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. More than 200 players between ages 4 to 80 participate in programs at the Miracle League Fields.
For more information, visit www.nuxhallmiracleleague.org/miracleseries.
About Ameritas: Presenting Sponsor of The Miracle Series
Ameritas is a marketing name for Ameritas Mutual Holding Company and its affiliated subsidiary companies, including Ameritas Life Insurance Corp. and Ameritas Life Insurance Corp. of New York. Founded in 1887, Ameritas offers a wide range of insurance and financial products and services to individuals, families and businesses. These products and services include life insurance; annuities; individual disability income insurance; group dental, vision and hearing care insurance; retirement plans; investments; asset management; and public finance. Securities offered through affiliate Ameritas Investment Company LLC, member FINRA/SIPC and investment advisory services offered through Ameritas Advisory Services, LLC. For more information, visit ameritas.com.
For all media inquiries or to schedule an appearance, please contact: