An inter-office email from Mike Buckelew, Diamond Nation’s 9U-13U Director of Player Development, arrived to my computer a little less than four years ago and quickly had my undivided attention.
Buckelew informed the Diamond Nation staff, “On Tuesday, May 17th we will be adding, as we say in baseball terms, a STUD, to our 11u Diamond Jacks. Austin Nace will be named an honorary member of our Diamond Jacks family this coming Tuesday. Austin is currently battling MPS, a disease that has a life expectancy, on average, of 10 years and includes dwarfism, heart damage, vision loss, hearing loss, and progressive brain damage.”
Buckelew went on to explain that an 11U Diamond Jack named Jimmy Mulvaney was friends with Austin and he’d like Austin to join he and his teammates as a member of their team.
Buckelew continued, “So on Tuesday, on behalf of the Diamond Jacks, we will be presenting Austin a jersey with his name on the back, a practice shirt, hat, and most importantly a place in our family.
Austin, Mulvaney (pictured above) and several of those players on that Diamond Jacks 11U squad have played and seen a lot of baseball since that day, become even stronger as a family and elevated to the Super 15U squad. And those boys have enjoyed plenty of success, often with Austin right at their side, cheering along. Austin, in fact, is frequently awarded a tournament’s Most Valuable Player award by his team when the team advances to win a championship.
“It’s amazing,” says Brian Mulvaney, Jimmy’s dad. “When we brought Austin’s story to ‘Buck’ he just brought it to another level we never expected. It’s been unbelievable.”
Nace and Mulvaney are now freshmen at Hunterdon Central and, of course, still good friends. Austin’s trademark smile now graces the halls of the Flemington school and inspires fellow students who are just meeting him as well.
“Every time Austin comes to games you can see the excitement on our players’ faces,” says Buckelew. “He has taught his teammates so much these past four years. His perseverance and his attitude are two things that really stand out to me. Austin continues to fight every obstacle thrown at him and I know our boys see that. He brings so much to our program that is beyond baseball. What he teaches our players through his presence and support will stay with this group of kids forever.”
The experience has been equally fulfilling for Austin.
“When Austin first got his Diamond Jack jersey, he walked onto the field and into the dugout,” says Jen Nace, Austin’s mom. “Today he is wheelchair-bound, but still, as much as ever, he very much feels a part of the team. He is also so proud to tell people he is a Diamond Jack.”
Indeed, Austin’s physical challenges continue as does his various treatments and therapies.
“Three-and-a-half years have passed since Austin started as a part of the DJacks,” says Jen. “Much has been lost in his physical abilities but his excitement and connection to the program has continued to grow. The players, parents, coaches and staff at Diamond Nation have become like family. It is remarkable, too, that as new kids have joined the team they have quickly come to treat Austin as a teammate.”
As the photos in this story show, Austin is so very much a part of this group of Diamond Jacks. He is truly a revered and valuable teammate.
“His teammates support him and Austin supports them,” says Jen Nace. “We are so grateful for the way this group has come together to expand Austin’s life and circle of friendships. In a world of limitations, this team has enabled him to be a ball player, a teammate, and ‘just one of the guys.’ And that is really the biggest blessing of all.”
As we enjoy the holiday season, we can look to Austin Nace and this terrific group of 15U Diamond Jacks for inspiration and confirmation of the power of giving, friendship and love for one another.
(Please enjoy our May, 2016 Player of the Week story on Austin Nace).
Diamond Jacks Player of the Week
NAME: AUSTIN NACE
TEAM: DIAMOND JACKS SUPER 11U
POSITION: INSPIRATIONAL LEADER
(Editor’s note: Austin Nace is a 10 year-old boy battling a genetic disease called Mucopolysaccharidosis, or MPS. In Austin’s case it is MPS Type 1-Hurler’s Syndrome, the most aggressive form of the disease. Austin has undergone an assortment of surgeries, 485 intravenous infusions, goes to physical therapy three times a week and speech and occupational therapy twice a week. The average life expectancy for an MPS patient is 10 years. Austin’s courage in facing his daily challenges made him an easy choice as our Diamond Jacks Player of the Week).
AUSTIN’S BIG WEEK: Austin just joined the Diamond Jacks organization after a tip from his buddy Jimmy Mulvaney, who plays for the Super 11U squad. Austin was introduced to the Diamond Jacks 11U and 13U players, presented a uniform and two balls signed by each team. He promptly was named the Player of the Week for unselfishly inspiring the entire Diamond Jack program, which has plenty of big spring and summer games ahead. Though only 10, Austin has joined the Super 11U squad because of his vast experience “playing-up” his whole life.
COACH’S COMMENTS: “Austin has the rare ability to instantly inspire,” said Diamond Jacks 9U-13U Director of Player Development Mike Buckelew. “Few Diamond Jacks have exhibited the type of joy expressed by Austin when we introduced him to his new teammates and presented him with his uniform. He is a positive force and a wonderful example to the rest of his teammates of the high level of passion a person can have for the sport of baseball. Austin is what a Diamond Jack player stands for and more. He is an inspiration to us all.”
UNIFORM NUMBER: 61.
FAVORITE PART OF BASEBALL: “When the players run the bases and when Sparky (Somerset Patriots’ mascot) runs the bases.”
GIVEN THE CHOICE, I’D RATHER HIT A GAME-WINNING HOME RUN, MAKE A GAME-SAVING CATCH OR PITCH A NO-HITTER: “Hit a game-winning home run.”
COOLEST FIELD OR STADIUM I’VE BEEN TO: “TD Bank Park” (home of the Somerset Patriots).
FAVORITE SONGS: “Bad” by Michael Jackson, “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
IF NOT BASEBALL: “Basketball or football. I belong to the Flemington Falcons football team.”
SHOUT OUT: “To my friend, Jimmy Mulvaney.”
FAVORITE MLB TEAM: “The Boston Red Sox.”
FAVORITE MLB PLAYER: “Ryan Howard.”
FAVORITE FOOD: “Mac and cheese, cooked by mom and dad and my sister Mandy, too.”
FAVORITE MOVIE: “Sandlot.”
WHEN I GO TO A PICNIC, I EAT THIS FIRST: “A brownie.”
WHAT SUPERPOWERS WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE?: “I want to be like Captain America.”
THREE FOR DINNER: “Jimmy Mulvaney and my friends from school, Kelly and Sarah.”
IF YOU COULD LIVE IN A DIFFERENT CENTURY OR DECADE, WHEN WOULD IT BE?: “The past, maybe in the Revolutionary War time.”
SOMETHING MY FRIENDS DON’T KNOW ABOUT ME: “I’m an open book but I would like to be a Japanese Ninja Warrior.”