CINCINNATI -- One hour before doors opened to the public at Redsfest on Saturday, a group of kids gathered on the wiffle ball fields on the first floor of the Duke Energy Convention Center for a baseball experience it won't soon forget.Kids of varying ages, all of whom are members
CINCINNATI -- One hour before doors opened to the public at Redsfest on Saturday, a group of kids gathered on the wiffle ball fields on the first floor of the Duke Energy Convention Center for a baseball experience it won't soon forget.
Kids of varying ages, all of whom are members of the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League program, were given a private session of baseball tutelage by three Reds rising stars: closer Raisel Iglesias, infielder Blake Trahan and top pitching prospect Hunter Greene.
Some kids took their best swings off the Reds players. Others hit off a tee. Judging from their excitement as they rounded the bases -- regardless of their method of hitting -- a good time was had by all.
"To interact with the families and the kids, to talk with them and just have a good time... for me, to make sure they enjoy their time here at Redsfest is special for me, and it's very important," Greene said.
The Redsfest appearance was undoubtedly a treat for the special-needs Miracle League kids. But thanks to the late broadcaster for whom the league is named, playing baseball is delightfully commonplace for many of these youngsters.
Nuxhall, the "Ol' Left-hander" who etched his place in Cincinnati history as the youngest pitcher to ever debut for the team, and who spent most of his later years as a beloved Reds radio announcer, had a vision long ago to build baseball fields where kids with physical and mental challenges would have a place to freely play ball, without restrictions.
Nuxhall passed away in 2007 and wasn't able to see this project to completion. But his family, including his son, Kim, took over those efforts, and in '12, the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields at Hatton Park in Fairfield opened for business. The two-field complex is thriving today.
"Unfortunately, he didn't get to see it open, but he knew it was going to happen," Kim Nuxhall said. "He would have loved this."
This marked the second year that the Reds have hosted the Miracle League participants at Redsfest. The wiffle ball field was transformed, inundated with delighted parents and siblings, with Miracle Leaguers taking their best hacks off the Reds players.
"A lot of these kids, six, seven years ago, could only dream about playing ball," Kim said. "To first give them that experience, and then this [event]... the Reds have been incredible to us with their support.
"My goal today was not to sob cry. It's so emotional. I know what it means to the parents to be out here. They watch the Reds play on TV, and here they are. They're feeling like a Major League ballplayer today."
Many in attendance were touched by the meaningful nature of the event.
"This is a very emotional thing, and it is for the families as well as the kids," said Charley Frank, executive director of the Reds Community Fund. "It's an opportunity for them to experience something that every kid gets to, and a lot of us take for granted. To see how special this moment is, and for these kids and their parents and their families, it really reminds us... we're lucky to do what we do."
Greene and his teammates lingered for a while after the wiffle ball game concluded, ensuring every kid and family member obtained autographs and photos to serve as mementos of an unforgettable experience.
"It's always special to give the kids the opportunity to play catch, play a game that they love and have a passion for," Greene said. "Giving them the opportunity to come out and spend time with future big leaguers, and current big leaguers, is special for them, and they'll remember it for the rest of their lives. I'm just glad I was able to have an impact on their life on the baseball field and off as well."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.