It is not unusual for loved ones to honor those who have passed before us by building memorials or creating funds to help others in their name. We are no different, but our goal is not only to honor Pheonix for his extraordinary spirit, but to raise awareness for other children with limited physical abilities and their families. We hope that others hear about the incredible odds that Pheonix overcame and want to be part of someone’s story. As someone who saw first hand what believing in an individual with a disability can do for them during their journey, I can attest to how it lifts them up and lifts you up as well. Pheonix had no shortage of people who believed in him, gave their time and energy as volunteers or aides to him, and went to great lengths in helping him overcome the physical challenges he faced. The rewards are greater than money or public recognition when you give of yourself to someone who needs that little something extra in this life. Pheonix paid in honest smiles and joyous laughter! I’d take that kind of reward any day!!
We did our best to introduce Pheonix to as many experiences as we could. Years 1-3 were very difficult for him with multiple surgeries, regular hospital visits, and a growing list of medications. Around age 4 things started to settle down and stabilize with his health. We decided it was time to go full-throttle with creating opportunities for him. He spent a lot of time in pools and hiking, but Summer held a special place in his heart for one reason…BASEBALL SEASON! He was just a tiny guy, with a hat bill stretching far past his face sitting out on the field watching the players hit from the tee. He couldn’t chase down the ball, throw, or hit the ball from the tee without help, but he was the most serious player out there. He was into it!! The first league he joined at age 5 didn’t have buddy players, but he still loved being out on the field. At the end of the season, they presented him with a trophy. The look on his face just melted my heart. I had never seen him look at anything with so much awe. He refused to let go of the trophy and he held it to his side all the way home.
After we saw how he reacted to playing baseball that year, we looked for something that might be better suited for his limited physical abilities. We were directed to The Miracle League of Central Ohio. They had only been playing for a few years, but had an accessible baseball field out in Dublin. We signed Pheonix up and after the first game, he was hooked! They have volunteers to buddy the children who need help participating and the coaches and announcers make the experience feel just like you are playing in a little league game. Pheonix was “Pheeny Man” of the Reds (of course) and he loved to play shortstop so he could watch the players hit and then dash off to first base. I loved to watch his expression out in the field because he would intently stare at the batter with his jaw slightly open and when the ball was hit, he would snap his mouth shut and extend his body in what I would guess was his brain telling his body to chase down the ball. Thankfully due to the buddies, he had someone there to make that experience a reality for him as they would race him to the ball if it was coming his way and toss it up into his awaiting glove. He looked at it and out to the crowd to see if we saw that he had the ball. We always did and we cheered for him.
He had some incredible buddies over his 8 years playing for The Miracle League and he had the same coaching team and friends that played on his team year after year. Coaches, buddies, and announcers were all volunteers! These wonderful people gave a boy like Pheonix and continue to give lots of other children the opportunity to experience a team sport. When I say this experience was life changing for Pheonix, that is NO exaggeration. He never wanted to miss a game. Even if he was going to be late for the game, he wanted to go. Peg always had his name on the roster board already as we rushed up to the game start. We had to keep his baseball shirt hidden until it was time to leave for the game because the moment that shirt was on, he was trying to run out the door. I feared he would actually fling himself off of the couch in an attempt to get to his wheelchair and into the car to go. He took the experience very seriously and there was no place for moms in the dugout, especially moms like me who embarrass their kid by pointing out that their buddy for the game was very cute. I got the “look” and I asked if I should go sit in the stands. I received a quick “yea” and I was never more proud that he was able to communicate how he felt about something. One time there were not enough buddies for all of the players so Pheonix’s dad said he would buddy him. That wasn’t going to fly! Apparently no dads on the field. Pheonix enjoyed baseball as something he could do without his parents. We loved it because he didn’t have a lot of opportunities like that.
Pheonix passed away on a Friday morning. Trophy day was the next day for the 2015 baseball season. We decided he wouldn’t want to miss the game so we went, sat in the stands, cheered for his team, and accepted his trophy for him at the end of the game. There was an incredible energy that day and we felt him near as the sun shined and the crowd cheered. Baseball was something Pheonix fell in love with because people who truly care about creating opportunities for individuals with disabilities made it happen. Without sponsors and volunteers, he would have never had the independence of playing a team sport. It changed him in ways we could never have imagined! It gave him focus, drive, patience, and a love for being on a team. His doctor said once it was impossible for Pheonix to be left-handed. She was so insistent that she brought up a picture of his brain and pointed out how the right side of the brain was formed and explained that he couldn’t have that control on his left side. I pulled up a video on my phone of Pheonix using his left arm to swing a bat and hit a baseball off of a tee. She looked at Pheonix and he just smiled the biggest smile. It took an incredible amount of effort for him to control his body, but for practicing baseball, it was worth it!
It is amazing how experiences or opportunities most of us think are small or a given, can be something huge to someone with limited opportunities. We are forever grateful for The Miracle League of Central Ohio, the sponsors, buddies, and coaches. I would encourage any parent of an individual with a disability to sign up to participate. If you have an hour on Saturdays, sign up to be a buddy. The difference the experience can make is immeasurable for the participants and the volunteers! Get out there and be part of someone’s story!! You will find us out there on the field this baseball season as a buddy and an assistant coach for the Reds. Pheonix wouldn’t want us to miss the game! Visit ohiomiracleleague.org for player and volunteer sign-up!