Growing up in Slavic Village on Cleveland's southeast side, Norbert "Nobby" Lewandowski worked hard on being the fastest runner, being able to hit the ball the furthest, and throw the ball the hardest.
Surprisingly, Lewandowski's motivation wasn't that of a college scholarship or to be drafted by a professional baseball team, even though they were all milestones he would go on to achieve. Rather, he just wanted to be accepted without having to speak.
Lewandowski, a 1964 Case Western Reserve M.B.A. graduate, has a stutter. Back in 1965, he made a list of 66 things he wanted to accomplish in his life after being fired by a certified public accounting firm for his "inability to communicate."
"They confused an ability to speak fluently with an ability to communicate," he said. "I look at it as a challenge I had as a child. Back in grade school, anyone that was different in any way was made fun of by his peers. All I ever knew how to do was to take what God had given me, utilize my strengths, and minimize my weaknesses. Some kids made fun of me, but I learned to live with the insults which gave me added incentive to succeed."
Lewandowski, a self-made millionaire and nationally recognized public speaker, will get the last laugh on Wednesday, April 25 by crossing item number 55 [ball park named after him] off that coveted list when he throws out the first pitch at Nobby's Ballpark at 3:30 p.m.
"I have always been a person who sets goals," Lewandowski said. "I love when people tell me 'you can't do that.' I say 'oh no, get out of my way and watch.'"
The field phase of Nobby's Ballpark opened last spring. Phase two, a stadium with the seating capacity of around 500 made possible by a generous gift from Lewandowski, will be open for play for the first time Wednesday.
In addition to his time at Case, Lewandowski, excelled in athletics and academics at Benedictine High School (1955 graduate) and Kent State University. He received the first baseball scholarship in Kent State history and graduated with an accounting degree in 1959.
For three years following graduation from KSU, Lewandowski juggled six months of M.B.A. classes at Case Western Reserve with six months of pitching in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system.
Baseball memories are plentiful to a man who played the game from the local sandlots to the professional ranks. Lewandowski's favorite professional story is that of a 1961 encounter with a couple members of the New York Yankees. While pitching for the big club during spring training, the boy wonder from Cleveland's first three batters were Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Yogi Berra.
"Mickey Mantle hit a shot at my second baseman that almost made him do a back flip, Roger Maris popped up and Yogi Berra hit a fly ball," smiled the former Pirate minor leaguer.
Lewandowski's number one baseball memory was when he struck out Durham Bulls first baseman Rusty Staub, earning his team [Kinston Eagles] a Carolina League championship in 1962. He was 8-0 that year with a 0.67 E.R.A. at Kinston.