For the Love of the Game – A Father’s Day Tribute

With humble respect to Kevin Costner in For the Love of the Game, I want to share with you a true story about the love of The Game and of a young man. And in the midst of it is a tribute to my Dad, Ron Nischwitz.

In a few weeks my Dad will turn 76 years old and he’s lived, in my judgment, a good life. He’s had the blessed gift of living his dreams by playing major league baseball. He got an education because his father, my grandfather, demanded that he go to college and postpone (at the time) his baseball dreams. He bought a business, built that business, and later sold that business. He had the privilege of doing what he truly loved, coaching baseball, as the Head Coach of Wright State University for 30 years where he positively impacted the lives of hundreds of young men who played baseball for his teams (and even the many hundreds more of young men who didn’t make the team but who received the gift of his personal communication to them about why they didn’t make the team).

Yes, my Dad’s made some mistakes … he’s human … but his legacy in this world will always be one of giving, caring, and mentoring people, especially the players that he coached and believed in.

And like most men, he’s had his share of obstacles, setbacks, and pain. In 1967 he had to walk away from major league baseball due to an unfixable injury. It wasn’t until I asked him about this several years ago that I learned that he did not attend a baseball game for five years. It was too painful for him to watch others playing the game that he was good enough to play, but no longer able to play at the young age of 29.

Fifteen years ago he found out that he had a brain tumor (thankfully not malignant), which required over 10 hours of surgery to remove, but he was dedicated to getting well and with great effort and persistent over many months he fully recovered (with only a couple of ongoing conditions that he treats as minor inconveniences). The biggest impact was the loss of his voice, which since the surgery has been not much more than a strong raspy whisper. You’d think that impacted his ability to coach baseball, but not for my Dad – he adapted and got a whistle!

But the biggest challenge and the most painful wound came on September 20, 1980, when my younger brother Gregg was killed in a tragic construction accident after his freshman year of playing baseball for my Dad at Wright State. Unless we have experienced it, we cannot possibly imagine the impact and pain of the death of a child, especially at the young age of 19. How do you cope? How do you survive? How do you go on? To be honest, I don’t fully know how my Dad (or Mom) have done it, but I know one thing that has carried my Dad forward over the past nearly 33 years. As you might expect, it’s been baseball. Not only did my Dad continue to coach baseball at Wright State for another 24 years, but in the summer he turned his sorrow into a dream and into a reality.

This past weekend was the 32nd Annual Gregg Nischwitz Invitational Baseball Tournament (GNIT), which my father envisioned and created following Gregg’s death. He gathered together a small group of friends and baseball lovers, and the first GNIT took place in the summer of 1981 (less than a year after Gregg’s death). Today the dream lives on with a tournament every summer for teams from all over Ohio made up of players under 19 (no coincidence with that age), and this year 17 teams competed in the GNIT.

As a part of the family and who was there at the beginning, I “know” all about the GNIT, but this weekend the love behind this dream became even clearer. Over the years, many of the original GNIT Board have passed away, and not always with younger members ready to pick up the torch. Today, the GNIT continues do to the efforts of many, but mainly due to the love and passion of one man … my Dad.

Over the course of four days, my Dad’s days typically run from 7:00 a.m. until after Midnight (he’s there at the start of every day and at the end of every day). With the GNIT played on several fields, he’s pretty mobile but he relies on a small, committed group of people to “run things” at the different fields, many of whom are family members.

My Aunt Marilyn (my Dad’s sister) also worked all four days and runs the concessions at all of the fields. My brother Brad has been working several of the days, and my Aunt Phyllis and Uncle Gary also worked the concession stand for one day (as well as various nieces and nephews). Other friends are there to lighten the load, but many people have rightfully said that the GNIT would not still be going except for the love carried by my Dad – the combined love of baseball and of Gregg.

The plaque at Wright State’s baseball stadium (aptly named Nischwitz Stadium) visually demonstrates what I’m talking about … to a point … but the real showering of love shows up when you see my Dad working at one of the fields (whether it’s in the press box, arguing with a team’s coach, or working on a field … yes, he does it all). If you attend a GNIT game you might not recognize my Dad, the founder and torch carrier of the GNIT. He won’t be the guy sitting in the stands and admiring his work. You’re more likely to see him raking a field, handling paperwork, getting more hot dogs for the concession stand, or checking the weather on his phone.

Baseball was my Dad’s life and his love and he was blessed to live his dream for many years. Gregg was my Dad’s best friend and they shared a unique bond even amongst fathers and sons for 19 years. Through the GNIT, my father honors baseball and Gregg and at the same time supports and encourages the dreams of other young men who share the love of baseball.

Yes indeed, for the love of the game and of Gregg, my Dad turned a dream (a baseball tournament) into a reality and a legacy for the past 32 years and one that will continue even after the GNIT has ended (whenever that happens). What do you love enough to do for over 32 years? What passion do you live every day? What dreams have you made a reality?

Today with these words I honor my Dad, Gregg, my family, and all the people that have in some way touched or supported the GNIT over the years. More important, I honor my Dad’s dream, his commitment to turning the dream into reality, and his passionate and relentless desire to create something magical from the ashes of a tragedy and from which other dreams can be lived. Happy Father’s Day to my Dad, Ron Nischwitz, a man who makes dreams come true and who has been doing just that for nearly 40 years (both as a coach and as the man behind the curtain for the GNIT).

Every year the GNIT t-shirts carry the same simple message, and perhaps one that’s missed by many of the people that participate in the tournament. Thanks to Ron Nischwitz The Dream Lives On!

Comments

  1. Hey there! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  2. mollie cain says:

    My older brother was a grad of fairview & talked Ronnie nischwitz every night at dinner table. We lived by Howell field & my family lived & breathed baseball. We went to Crosley, my earliest memory. It was wonderful reading this tribute of a home town hero to us. What a wonderful man. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Bruc Carriker says:

    Thanks for sharing about your father. I know this may sound foolish, but I remember buying a pack of 1966 Topps cards – bought a ton of them between 1964 and 1975 – and pulling out Ron Nischwitz, pitcher, Detroit Tigers. I don’t know why that summer afternoon, visiting my grandparents, stands out so vividly among my childhood memories. Bu, I can tell you exactly where that little store, where I bought that pack of cards, used to be. I loved your dad’s card. He just looked like a pitcher ought to look.

    Today I was back in that little town. Of course, my grandparents have long since departed that life. But, the little store – the building anyway – is still there. It’s vacant. But, for a few moments today, I was that 9 year-old kid, pulling a perfect Ron Nischwitz card out of my new pack of cards. I wondered, “What happened to him?” so tonight I Googled his name and found your tribute.

    I’m glad you shared and I’m glad your dad has had a great life.

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