Nuxhall's Miracle League inspires 'Pitching for Success'
New book brings to life Reds legend's dedication to tenets of inclusion, sportsmanship
Doug Coates has made a successful pitch for success.
Coates, a veteran baseball and softball coach, published his first book, "Pitching for Success: Character Lessons, the Joe Nuxhall Way," in March.
But while the main character in the book -- 11-year-old Little League pitcher Dominic Perez -- is fictional, Coates' inspiration was anything but.
Coates came across Cincinnati's Joe Nuxhall Miracle League one Saturday morning. The Miracle League, which is based on the legacy of Reds player and broadcaster Joe Nuxhall, allows kids with physical disabilities to play baseball.
"Back in the spring of 2012, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Park in Fairfield," Coates explained. "I didn't know anything about it, but it was under construction, and they needed a lot of volunteers to come out on a Saturday and clean and paint and do some light construction-type work. I went out there and worked for several hours, and I got to meet some of the people there.
"I had done a lot of work with nonprofits the previous 10 years, and I volunteered my services to do some grant writing and so forth, and they quickly jumped on that, of course. So I got involved with the Miracle League and became the treasurer on their board, and I got to learn a lot more about Joe Nuxhall because his son, Kim, is the executive director of the Nuxhall Miracle League."
Coates, like most other native Cincinnatians, had heard of Nuxhall -- a breakthrough young southpaw with the Reds in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, and a longtime radio broadcaster for the club -- but didn't know much about him.
That's where the Miracle League came in.
"What I came to learn from the Miracle League is that [Nuxhall] was a strong advocate for children -- especially children that had special needs," Coates said. "He wanted to make sure that children got an education and that they had an opportunity to play sports with any difficulties that they might have. That was sort of the goal of the Miracle League.
"While Joe never got to see it before he passed, the Miracle League is just that -- it's a specially-designed baseball field that allows children and adults that have special physical needs to play. It's made out of special rubber material, and it's very smooth and flat. And kids with walkers and wheelchairs and crutches and whatnot can get along on it very well."
As fate would have it, the more Coates volunteered with the Miracle League, the more inspiration he drew from it.
One day, it all clicked for Coates.
"I began to see some of the things that I used to take for granted, like my players had a sore arm one day or got hurt sliding into a base, and how that was my biggest problem," Coates said. "But I saw that these children and adults [playing at the Miracle League] had many more problems that they faced on a daily basis, and things that we took for granted.
"So taking some of that into account and learning about Joe and his desire to help children and so forth, I began talking with my editor. I had been writing some children's books already, but had nothing published, and I was working on a whole different theme, if you will -- more of a picture book that had nothing to do with baseball."
So Coates decided to switch gears, and in November 2012, he started writing the children's book that eventually became "Pitching for Success," all the while recollecting his own experiences as a baseball player and coach himself.
Out of that was born the Perez family: Dominic, the Little League pitcher, his dad, who serves as coach, and Dominic's younger sister Chelsea, a Miracle League player.
"I coached all three of my kids, so I was using a lot of personal influence in there," Coates said. "And I portray a number of scenarios in there where Dominic learns about good sportsmanship, bad sportsmanship, what it means to develop character because his dad, the coach, introduces him to this legendary ballplayer, Joe Nuxhall.
"Dominic has the opportunity to learn about this through articles on the Internet and things that he reads and so forth. He comes to understand just what it's all about and how to treat your fellow player, how to treat adults."
Dominic Perez has an epiphany about just that as his team readies to play the league championship. Coates hopes kids reading "Pitching for Success" will learn the same lesson.
"It's great to win the ballgame and it's great to win the championship, but my goal and my teachings [as a coach] were basically, 'OK, you made a mistake in this game. Learn from it and don't make the same mistake next time,'" he said. "Always learn from your previous mistakes. There are people that are not as gifted as you and don't have the same abilities, so don't take the arrogant approach and think that you're always going to start at shortstop because this player doesn't have the same abilities.
"Perhaps unknowingly, I tried to equalize the game out. As much as I was interested in winning, I also tried to emphasize to the kids, 'What did you learn? Did you learn something from your mistake? Did you figure out how to improve so you don't make the same mistake twice? And did you have a good time?' That's primarily it. I still play ball. I played Little League up until I was about 14, took a couple years off and I've been playing men's ball ever since."
Coates says there's an important message for kids to take away as they read.
"I want them to take away that they need to work toward helping others and not be so concerned about themselves," he explained. "So don't trample over everybody just to meet your needs, but go ahead and assist the other people, because there's other people that need more help that you need."
There's no doubt Coates succeeds in delivering that message. And while "Pitching for Success" may be written for kids in second through sixth grades, its lesson knows no limits.
"A parent should read it. A coach should read it. It doesn't have to be just about someone who's in baseball," he said. "Once you get past the fact that someone's pitching and someone's batting, if you get underneath it and get to the real theme, it can be about any sport. It can be about any application. It can be about being in the band or being in a spelling club or being on the gymnastics team. It can apply to almost every walk of life."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.