Let the record show that three different hitters won the hit-a-thon/home run derby benefit May 13 at Clay High School’s Ousky Field.
The real winner, however, was Clay senior second baseman J.J. Miller’s mother, Lisa.
Lisa Miller was 30 years old in 1996 when she experienced a recurring numbness in her legs. She was, at that time, a rural route mail carrier in Curtice. She gave birth to her daughter, Jamie, in 1997 and says she didn’t immediately have any more symptoms.
|Lisa Miller surrounded by the Clay varsity and junior varsity baseball teams.
(Photo courtesy of Garry Isbell)
After some time, however, the symptoms began to come back “and it was getting worse,” Lisa recalls.
“I had weakness in my legs,” she says. “Since (last) August, the bottom fell out and the weakness started coming to my hands. It’s been just crazy. Now I’m confined to wheelchair all the time, but I’m able to get to ball games and stuff. It’s been a crazy ride.”
Miller, 46, has been diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). That, she says, “means it keeps getting worse and worse. There’s no break. I can’t be alone anymore. I have to have somebody here with me 24 hours. Medicare will pay for an aide one hour a day, three days a week.”
She also has neuropathy, or pain and tingling in her hands, legs and feet. The weakness in her legs is so bad that “I really can’t use them much anymore,” she said.
When Garry Isbell took over as Clay’s head baseball coach three years ago, he started an annual hit-a-thon, or home run derby, whereby the Eagles’ players would raise money and give back to someone in need in the community. The baseball team has raised more than $2,000 for former Clay hockey player Kyle Cannon, who was paralyzed during a game a couple years ago.
“It’s a community service project I wanted to do for the kids,” Isbell says. “At the same time, our kids can have fun with it. You pledge per foot – from 10 cents up to $10 a foot for the longest ball hit by each player. Each kid is responsible for eight pledges they have to go get.”
Clay’s junior varsity and varsity teams and coaches took part in this year’s event at Ousky Field. Each player got eight swings, and every batted ball was measured.
“We take the longest ball hit by each player, and that’s the score they put on their card,” says Isbell, who is the Division I Northwest District Coach of the Year. “They multiply that money times the longest ball, and that’s how much that person donates. I have a live deejay there and we invite all of the youth campers with their parents. We have a big cookout and then they go over and watch the home run derby.”
The JV and varsity home run derby winners both receive a trophy, and there is an alumni game held later that night. Each alumni player donates $10 to play in the game.
The JV hit-a-thon winner was freshman Ryan Fournier; the varsity winner was Jordan Grosjean, the Three Rivers Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year; and the alumni winner was freshman baseball coach Brent Graham, a former All-City League catcher and 2006 Clay graduate.
Last month’s hit-a-thon raised more than $2,200 for Lisa Miller.
“It meant a lot. It really did,” she says. “We were able to order a ‘stand-up’ lift to use around the house. I have one person who stays with me all day. The other lift I have is like a two-person lift. This is a one-person lift where it helps me stand up. We should be getting it Wednesday (June 6).”
A life-changing diagnosis
MS affects women more than men and is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40. It can, however, be seen at any age.
MS is caused by damage to the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When the nerve covering is damaged, nerve signals slow down or stop. The nerve damage is caused by inflammation that occurs when the body’s own immune cells attack the nervous system. This can occur along any area of the brain, optic nerve and spinal cord.
Symptoms of MS can include loss of balance, muscle spasms, numbness, weakness in the arms and legs, difficulty walking, double vision and even loss of vision in one or both eyes.
Lisa Miller does receive healthcare benefits through her husband, Joe’s, job, but the family’s medical co-pay is $5,000 a year. There are always other expenses. In addition to the stand-up lift, Lisa says she will also use the money raised by the baseball team to renovate her bathroom and make it handicap accessible.
Isbell said raising money for the Miller family this season was pretty much a no-brainer.
“J.J. had some rough times over the winter,” Isbell said of the honorable mention all-conference infielder. “His mom was progressively getting worse and dealing with this thing. I got with him back in November and figured out what was going on. He and I, our relationship changed back then.
“As the season was getting ready to start and we were thinking what we could do as a program, I felt the shoe fit to help his mom with this program. They’re a great family and they’ve done a lot for our program. They’re good people,” he said.
Isbell called the hit-a-thon “the highlight of our season.”
“It’s rewarding for our kids, our program and myself,” he said. “It was pretty cool. We honored J.J.’s mom again at our (team) banquet. She was in tears and she was very thankful. It’s a good story.”
Anyone wishing to donate money to the Miller family can send a check or money order to The National Bank of Ohio, Curtice branch. Call 419-836-7722 for more information.