The Electrical Worker online
June 2012

Ohio Members Build Field of Dreams
for Disabled Youth
index.html Home    print Print    email Email

Go to

The crack of a bat, the blast of a line drive and the roar of the crowd have inspired generations of youngsters to oil up their mitts and hit the baseball diamond.

But for many kids with severe disabilities, taking to the field remains an out-of-reach dream.

Kenny Rhodus is helping change that. The Hamilton, Ohio, Local 648 retiree has spent the past six months coordinating a crew of volunteers to build Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Field at Fairfield's Hatton Park in the southwest corner of the state. Named for the famed Cincinnati Reds leftie pitcher, the state-of-the-art facility will offer hundreds of children and teens who use wheelchairs, walkers or other devices a welcoming and safe environment to enjoy America's pastime.

"This is one of the best projects I've ever been involved in," said Rhodus, a retiree with 35 years in the Brotherhood. "When you think about the young people who are going to be using this field — if it doesn't put a lump in your throat and lift your heart, I don't know what will."

It's a massive community effort that has received the support of the building trades, signatory contractors, local businesses, political officials and residents from across Butler County. Since the groundbreaking in November, area newspapers and the local Fox television affiliate have reported on the project's developments.

Nuxhall Field will feature two separate diamonds, stadium-style seating for parents and caregivers and a professional-grade LED video scoreboard and camera system that will display players at bat. Rotating crews of more than two dozen Local 648 members ran conduit, pulled thousands of feet of wire and installed numerous electrical outlets across the park. The volunteers recently set and wired light poles and put the finishing touches on the dugout areas, which include critical electrical accommodations for wheelchairs, oxygen generators and other medical devices for the players. Instead of grass and dirt, the field itself will be a thin layer of supple, colored rubber — smooth enough to allow for easy wheelchair passage.

Rhodus estimates that by the time the field is complete, volunteers will have donated about 3,000 man-hours to the effort. "It's brought out the best of what this Brotherhood has to offer our neighbors and our youth, especially those who need extra support," Rhodus said.

Nuxhall Field has also given many volunteers something they weren't getting during their weekdays — a chance to work with their tools. President Matt Von Stein, who has been out of work, points to the project as an opportunity to do something constructive and community-driven while he awaits the next job call.

"I'd been laid off for about a year," Von Stein said. "After a while, you really start to feel like you need to be more active, so this project gives me something to do, something to be a part of. It's also great to be doing this with other members. It really gives everyone a good feeling."

About 20 members — including retirees and those awaiting calls — have lent their expertise to the effort, augmenting the daily work of Von Stein, Rhodus, Billy Bowcock and brothers Shawn and Vaughn Tate. These five have been on site nearly every weekday starting at sunrise for the past several months.

Nuxhall Field will be one of the many legacies of Joe Nuxhall, who was the youngest player ever to pitch for the Major Leagues, staring down his first batter at only 15 years old. Nuxhall enjoyed a career with the Reds from 1944 to 1966, pitching more than 1,300 strikeouts. Following his time on the mound, he moved into the radio booth where he became a celebrated broadcaster for the Reds until 2004. He also devoted himself to community improvement efforts in his hometown of Hamilton before passing away in 2007.

"Dad was a very committed, very emotional guy when it came to doing things for others," said his son Kim Nuxhall, who helps steer the Joe Nuxhall Hope Project. The organization was set up to further the ball player's philanthropic efforts by offering a scholarship fund, character education programs for youth, a summer baseball camp and other endeavors.

Kim recalls watching the television show "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" with his father one night about 10 years ago when the newscaster profiled the Miracle League — the national organization that coordinates baseball programs for children and young adults with disabilities. The story was a revelation to the former pitcher. "Watching that broadcast and seeing the excited faces of so many children really brought a tear to Dad's eye," Kim said. "Right then and there, he decided that he wanted to help do something for these kids, many of whom had been told they'd never play baseball because of their disabilities."

The Hope Project spent the next few years fundraising and soliciting donations from agencies, businesses and community members. After securing millions in funding, the group began outlining construction late last year. When it was time to start planning the electrical phase, Nuxhall turned to the IBEW.

"I knew Kenny Rhodus from the days when we would play high school football together," Nuxhall said. Rhodus set up a meeting with Local 648 Business Manager Frank Cloud and other leaders to hear Nuxhall's ideas and discuss how the IBEW could contribute volunteer labor. "When they said, 'We'll take care of everything,' I was floored," Nuxhall said.

Cloud, who also grew up with Kim Nuxhall, said the skill of IBEW electricians could help push the project past the finish line, and he encouraged members to participate at local meetings. "Joe Nuxhall has done so much for so many people in this area," Cloud said. "And this was a chance to show our community what being union is all about."

Throughout construction, IBEW members have been joined by volunteers from the Pipefitters, Sheet Metal Workers, Ironworkers, Operating Engineers and the Laborers' unions. Nearly all supplies have been donated by NECA signatory contractors and other companies in the area. For the electrical phase, more than $200,000 worth of free labor and materials were supplied. The crew is now finishing the project ahead of schedule.

IBEW members look forward to attending the field's ribbon cutting ceremony on June 10. "To get to the end of a project like this really allows us to share what the IBEW is and what it means for us and our town," said Local 648 organizer Jeff McGuffey, who helped coordinate donations and volunteer scheduling. "The main thing was that we had the opportunity to help — to take our skills and put them to work for the community. It makes you proud to be a member."

Players from the area will take the field for the opening pitch on July 28.

For more information on the project, visit


Dozens of Hamilton, Ohio, Local 648 electricians — including retirees and members on the bench — are helping build a state-of-the-art baseball facility for young people with disabilities.