By Pete Conrad
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
In two days, Joe Nuxhall knows, he will have to go back for treatment.
"I'm getting tired of it," he said, and then laughed. Nuxhall doesn't see anything funny in chemotherapy. It's just that laughing is as normal to "The Old Left-hander" as breathing.
First it was prostate cancer. Followed by melanoma. Then throat cancer. Now Nuxhall is fighting malignant tumors on his left leg and groin. He is scheduled to undergo treatment today, and again on Friday.
"You sit in a recliner and let that stuff drip into you," he said. "It wears you out. When I'm done with it, I go home and lie down. It knocks the wind out of your sails."
It might be tempting to think Nuxhall, the former Cincinnati Reds pitcher and broadcaster, has used up all his good days.
But this is a man who at the age of 15 pitched to Stan Musial, a man who survived bad teams, a bad trade and a bad temper to become the most beloved sports figure in Greater Cincinnati history. If he has learned one thing in his 78 years, it is how to endure.
For the fourth time in 13 years, Nuxhall appears to be kicking cancer's butt. And after he returns from Florida and spring training, he is scheduled to have a good day, maybe one of the best of his life.
A different legacy
Most famous baseball players have a legacy steeped in sports and statistics. Nolan Ryan has his strikeouts and no-hitters. With Babe Ruth, it's homers and hot dogs.
Nuxhall's fame has grown and matured over the years. For a long time, he was known for being the youngest player in major league history, an All-Star pitcher and the radio sidekick of Marty Brennaman.
Now he is in the process of developing the kind of lasting legacy that will make Ty Cobb's .367 lifetime batting average seem pretty insignificant.
On Thursday, April 5, a $1,000-a-table fundraiser will be held at Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield to raise money for Nuxhall and his ambitious, five-part dream of making life better for kids including the start of construction for the $7.5 million Joe Nuxhall Children's Center at One Way Farm in Fairfield.
"It's rewarding, and it's nice to be a part of it. I hope every part of it works and we see a tremendous influence on kids," said Nuxhall, whose dream also includes the Miracle League (in which disabled children can play baseball), the Laws of Life character education essay contest, the Joe Nuxhall Scholarship Fund and the Character Education Fund.
News from the doctor
"I got a good report today," Nuxhall said, talking over the phone from Florida. "I still have to take treatments, but the tumors are shrinking and everything is shipshape.
"I've been exercising to keep my strength going. I've gained about 10 pounds. I was down to 200. Now I'm almost back to my playing weight, which was 222. At one point, I had lost 65 pounds. It's amazing how much better I feel."
Which doesn't necessarily mean that Nuxhall is cured. He knows that, but he refuses to let his life be swallowed by thoughts of "What next?"
"One of the words is patience," Nuxhall said. "I don't know how long I'll have to take the treatments. I'll have to have them Tuesday and then I'll be off, then it'll be up to the doctor. He might say I'll need another four treatments, or another six, or he might say I don't need any.
"You've got the finest people you can find giving it treatment, and you believe in them," he said. "I don't like it, don't get me wrong, but you've got to have a positive attitude about it ... There are other people out there who have those problems. If you can fire a little positive attitude at them, maybe it'll make them feel better, and that'll make me feel better."
Spreading the word
Something else that makes Nuxhall feel better is talking about baseball, especially now that he hasn't pitched in a big-league game for 41 years, hasn't pitched batting practice in 10 years and his left arm is, as he puts it, "bye-bye."
"I actually hurt my daggone shoulder picking up Ken Griffey Jr.'s 500th home run trophy," Nuxhall said. "I picked up the thing, thinking it was light, and wham, my shoulder popped."
That hasn't prevented Nuxhall from taking his character education program and transplanting a little of it around the Reds' training camp.
Take, for instance, the case of Josh Hamilton, a 25-year-old outfielder loaded with talent and weighed down by problems. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft, but since then his career has been derailed by drug suspensions and injuries. The Reds decided to take a chance and invite him to camp.
"That kid, Hamilton, I'm going to tell you, he's a special one," Nuxhall said. "I guarantee you, if we don't keep him, someone's going to grab him real quick. I've talked to him about three times. He's really sincere about getting back and overcoming his problems."
This could be a turning point for Hamilton. At least it's a chance, especially with the help of Nuxhall, who once fired fastballs but now pitches words, ideas and hope.
Contact this reporter at (513) 820-2197 or email@example.com.
How to go:
What: Silent auction, special Reds appearances
When: April 5
Where: Jungle Jim's International Market, Fairfield
For tickets: Call (513) 984-1200 or (513) 321-HOPE
Send donations to: Joe Nuxhall Hope Project, c/o DHA, 9514 Kenwood Road Cincinnati, OH 45242