Rick McCrabb: Inspired by former Butler County educator, man walks 21.5 miles to Reds game

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Sep. 26—They say you don't know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.

Ben Otto never had the pleasure of meeting Tom Alf, but after what he accomplished Friday, the two Butler County men will forever be connected.

Alf, who spent 50 years in education in Butler County, walked 26 miles from his Hamilton home to Great American Ball Park to watch the Cincinnati Reds two years ago in recognition of his 70th birthday

Otto followed Alf's journey through articles in the Journal-News and social media. He said Alf's walk "captured my imagination."

Alf, who served the majority of his career with Hamilton City Schools and subbed or worked for every school district in Butler County, died in November 2019 from heart complications.

On the day of his funeral, the Hamilton district closed so everyone could attend.

"Hard to describe the impact he had on the community," Otto said.

Then he described it perfectly: "Everybody in the city was touched by that guy, impacted by that guy."

That's when Otto, a 1995 Fairfield High School and 2001 Miami University graduate, decided to duplicate Alf's feat, one step at a time.

A finance analyst at GE Aviation, Otto walked three miles a day during his lunch break, then walked after work when he extended his training. Before Friday, the most he had walked was 12 miles.

Otto, 44, walked 21.5 miles from his Fairfield home, mostly staying on Ohio 127, to Great American Ball Park. He stopped for breakfast and lunch along the way and met his wife, Laura, at a downtown hotel, changed clothes and made it in time for the first pitch.

When Otto first told his wife, a fifth-grade teacher at Fairfield West Elementary School, about his plans, she looked at him "like I had three heads," he said with a laugh.

Otto, who has two daughters, Anna, 8, and Mary, 6, only told his family and close friends about the walk until last week in case he got injured, or there was inclement weather or "something weird happened."

He wanted to raise $1,000 for the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields in Fairfield, a comprehensive family sports facility for children and adults with disabilities. It's located about one mile from his home. He figured he'd have to "scratch and crawl" to reach his goal.

But once he told Tyler Bradshaw, executive director of The Nuxhall Foundation about his plans, word quickly spread and in the first two hours, more than $2,000 was raised through his GoFundMe page. As of Friday morning, more than $7,000 had been raised.

"Blown away by the response," he said.

When Otto was attending Miami University, he served on the Reds grounds crew from 1996-2000. His first day on the job, Opening Day 1996, will forever be remembered as the day home plate umpire John McSherry died of a heart attack after seven pitches and the game was postponed.

He also was there that same season when Barry Larkin became the first shortstop to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases.

Through it all, Otto formed a friendship with Nuxhall. He said Nuxhall would frequently visit with the grounds crew in their locker area and play cards for hours.

"He was the ultimate people person," Otto said of Nuxhall, who died in 2007.

He said Nuxhall and Alf, because of the way they dedicated their lives for the betterment of people, are two Butler County icons.

"Joe Nuxhall carries a lot of weight," Otto said. "Tom is right up there with him in my mind."

In his mind and in his shoes.


LINK TO GOFUNDME: https://www.gofundme.com/f/walking-for-the-joe-nuxhall-miracle-league-fields?member=14084341&sharetype=teams&utm_campaign=p_na+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer

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