Brad and Rhonda Louis were high school sweethearts. Their oldest son Jaxon Louis had two loves: playing baseball and watching baseball. When other kids were watching cartoons, Jaxon would watch the Milwaukee Brewers.
“I’d have the Brewer game on and Rhonda would come out and go ‘Why are you watching the Brewers? Doesn’t he want to watch cartoons?’ I said, ‘Watch. I’ll flip it,’ and I flip it to a cartoon and he’d want the Brewer game back on,” Brad said.
The Louis family lives in Ithaca, a small town in southwest Wisconsin’s Richland County. Pay a visit to their home and it’s obvious Jaxon is one of the Brewers most fervent fans. His bedroom is filled with Brewers memorabilia. From dozens of autographed bats and balls to a robust bobblehead collection, his room is a journey through Brewers history. Baseball had always brought the Louis family together, even when life threw them a curve ball.
“Jaxon was seven years old and it was April of 2013. We just found out we were expecting our fourth child and Jaxon started having headaches,” Rhonda said.
“He’d bury his head in the corner of the couch,” Brad recalled. “You knew something was wrong.”
Brad and Rhonda Louis took their son to the hospital. “They did a CT scan and found a tumor in his brain,” Rhonda said.
Jaxon was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer. He began chemotherapy and radiation treatments in Chicago for seven weeks, followed by six months of treatment at UW-Madison.
“It was horrible. To walk away that first day and leave him in that room because of course you can’t stay in that room with the radiation or anything,” Rhonda recalled. “It was so hard to leave him there, to see him strapped in.”
Back home, the community rallied together to help the Louis family. Fundraisers were held to assist with medical costs. Friends also provided support. One of Jaxon’s best friends shaved his head in a show of solidarity. He’d even get a boost from his favorite baseball team. The Milwaukee Brewers invited him to a game at Miller Park.
“We walked right down on the field and he sat in the dugout with some of the players and they were awesome,” Rhonda said.
While this whirlwind enveloped the Louis family, Make-A-Wish Wisconsin had agreed to make one of Jaxon’s wishes come true. One day Brad found a story about a Vermont man who built a replica of Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.
“My eyes just lit up,” Jaxon said.
“He’s like ‘Can we do something like that?’” Brad said.
That’s how the Louis family ended up with a baseball stadium in their backyard. Make-A-Wish and the Brewers teamed up to bring Miller Park to Ithaca, Wisconsin. They called it “Jaxon’s Brew Crew Park.”
“We have a quarter inch scale of Miller Park, pretty much,” Brad said.
The dimensions of Jaxon’s Brew Crew Park are smaller, but many of the details are the same. The ballpark graphics used the Milwaukee Brewers font. The outfield featured a faux videoboard and scoreboard. In left field, Brad built a replica of mascot Bernie Brewer’s famous slide. It was every young baseball fan’s dream, a replica of his favorite stadium just beyond his back door. Jaxon’s wish wasn’t just to build a baseball stadium though.
“That community support, he saw all that,” Brad said. “That’s what we do when somebody’s sick. We gotta raise money for somebody.”
Jaxon used his gift to give back to his community. Every June, Jaxon’s Brew Crew Park hosts a weekend wiffle ball tournament. Children and adults of all ages sign up to play in the two day event. It’s a fundraiser for G.R.A.C.E., Greater Richland Area Cancer Elimination, a charity that funds cancer research and education while providing support for local cancer patients. In its first three years the tournament has raised almost $30,000 for G.R.A.C.E.
“They’re going through what I did, and I know the community helped me so I wanted to help the community too,” Jaxon said.
In January 2017, Brad and Rhonda Louis would get their wish. Their son went in for a checkup and the doctor delivered good news. Jaxon was not only cancer free, it also had a minimal chance of coming back.
“He goes, ‘Everything looks good,’” Brad said. “He said you’re sitting — We’re in a good spot. So that was a good feeling.”
Life for the Louis family is returning to normal, and Jaxon is still circling the bases. If baseball is measured in innings, life is measured in days. The Louis family has learned to make them all count.
“It sounds a little bit cliché but it really does make you appreciate everything you have because you never know,” Rhonda said.