A 1994 graduate of Genoa High School and perhaps one of the most-distinguished alumni to ever step off the fields of Genoa Little League, the late Ryan McDaniel was a lot of things to a lot of people.
For instance, he was a formidable pitcher who perplexed opposing Suburban Lakes League batters via his right arm. His patented curve, accompanying arsenal of other junk pitches and intellect for the game eventually led him to play for Tiffin University and an invitation to show his stuff at a Florida Marlins' camp.
To his family, friends, and teammates, he proved to be just as adept at endeavors off the field too. He kicked their butts at nearly every new thing he tried: including softball, bowling, golf, motorcycling, rugged outdoorsy activities such as deer-hunting and camping, and even switch-hitting. . .the latter of which is a skill-set one often doesn't hear mentioned in the same breath as "pitcher."
|The late Ryan McDaniel (left) as an assistant coach
at Tiffin University.
McDaniel was a son to William C and Carol (Hagarty) McDaniel, born April 26, 1976, in Toledo. He was a mentor to little brother Eric "E-Mac" McDaniel, whom played baseball at Genoa and Ashland.
To his closest friends, like Gregg Prenzlin, Josh Bayes, and Greg Tester, he was known as "Ry-Dog.”
He was a winner at ping-pong, at pool, and of a whole gloveful of varsity letters, including first-team All-SLL, first-team All-District, and All-State accolades in high school.
Most of all these days, he's just missed.
At the little league organization where his career got its start in 1981, they felt it important to honor Ryan by emblazoning his familiar No. 25 on every one of their players' uniforms this 2012 season — nearly one year after McDaniel lost his battle with a cancer on August 15, 2011.
"This was essentially my brother Gary's idea," explains 11th-year GLL president Lee Nissen.
Nissen remembers McDaniel as a young tee-baller at the age of 5, serving as the future hurler's first coach.
“Not only did Ryan turn into a great friend, but he was also an assistant coach under (former head coach) Gary (Nissen) for the Genoa High School baseball team and a huge part of that 1999 team that went to state and included his own brother Eric," Lee Nissen said.
"Ryan's number was 25, and most people knew that. So, most people knew what it was for, when we put that number on every one of our kids' jerseys this year, and they all thought it was a great, great way to honor him," shares Lee,
Lee ranks Ryan as one of the top five players to ever don a maroon and gray uniform for GHS baseball.
"As far as I know, this has never been done in Genoa Little League before, but I do know that as far back as tee-ball, Ryan was already a special, special talent. Even at that level, he had good hand-eye coordination, and the drive to win and do his best on any given day,” Lee said.
“Then later, as a high school player, he was just an outstanding pitcher who threw the ball hard. But he also understood how to pitch, and how to compete every time he was given the baseball. I know he's in a much better place now, and in the care of our Lord, which is the best care anyone can have. But man. . .I sure do miss him.
Gary Nissen added, "When people do ask what the No. 25 stands for on our uniforms, it gives us the chance to tell them all about Ryan, and just what he meant to us during the short time he was here.”
"Really, there are not many days that I don't think about Ryan and how much I miss him," continues Coach Gary. "I would say that Ryan was one of the top 10 pitchers at Genoa High School of all time, and he was just a very hard-nosed competitor.
“He was just such a tough competitor. He always put the team first, and himself second," praises Gary. "His teammates, and later his players loved that about him. He was just a special, special individual. People were just drawn to him."
Former Tiffin University coach Lonny Allen caught No. 25's stellar play for the talent-laden Pemberville American Legion team, all of which led the now-TU athletic director to recruit "the Wizard of Off-Speed."
Allen says he was an 80 to 85 mph thrower, who knew how to fire three strikes, and was equally-adept at working both sides of the plate.
Five years later after Ryan finally graduated from TU, he came back to GHS, determined to give something back to the program. In '98, he became Nissen's pitching coach (Gary took over the reigns in '97). In '99 he helped guide the Comets to the state semis.
In 2001, he returned to TU to step in as pitching coach for his Dragons.
"He worked so hard at his craft, and wanted to be the best and compete against the best as a player," Gary Nissen says. "This translated well into him becoming a coach at the high school and college levels. He was able to teach his love for the game to his players. He taught them to be better players, and better people in life."
Lee concurs with brother Gary's assessment: "Ryan could have gone as far as he wanted. His playing days were over, but coaching-wise he was one of the best. He knew what was needed, whether it was dealing with the pressures that come with being an ace pitcher, or giving someone a kick in the butt when they needed it.
“He was still young enough that he could relate to young men, but at the same time those young men respected him so much, and listened when he spoke. I truly believe given the opportunity, he would've made a great head coach."
One word description
Each of these men tried to come up with one single word to describe McDaniel.
"Special," fires back Lee. "I say this because he was a great baseball player, but an even better person who was always smiling, and there to help you at whatever you needed. I miss Ryan's smile. I miss our in-depth conversations about baseball and life. I miss him coming up to me, and saying 'You're short.' There are just so, so many things I miss."
"Dedicated," deadpans Gary. "Ryan was a very hard-working, dedicated player who played with a lot of heart and class. He was dedicated to his family, his friends, and his team. I remember when his best friend, Gregg Prenzlin was injured in a serious motorcycle accident. Ryan was there, not only immediately after the accident, but was there for Gregg in whatever he needed. I always respected the way Ryan was so dedicated and loving toward his family and friends."
"Loyal," says Coach Allen, “because he was a guy if you called him and needed him, he'd be there, no questions asked. Ryan came back when I was in a pinch for a coach, and I offered him a job on my staff. Right there, he took a huge pay cut from working construction, to come back and help me out. I could never, ever thank him enough for everything he did for me. He was one of the best guys."
The Tiffin family thinks so, too, as a Ryan McDaniel Memorial Bench, dedicated in April, sits between the home dugout and the press box at Heminger Field.
"Ryan was cocky," echoes Bayes, refusing to pull any punches, "but he was cocky in a good way. I mean, it's just the way we were to each other as friends, talking trash, and priding ourselves on it. If you didn't know us, and heard us interacting, you'd probably think we hated each other. And we talked to everybody else, the way we talked to each other, which a lot of people didn't know how to take. But Ryan was a lot of fun to be around. He had a really big heart. He was just a great guy.
"At his benefit at Ray'z, I remember him wearing this shirt that asked people to please not touch him, and he had this sanitizer with him that he had to keep using," shares Bayes.
At the chicken BBQ fundraiser sponsored by the Genoa watering hole, Bayes stood post over a hot grill in the blistering heat grilling to help raise money for his friend’s medical bills.
"And at one point during the day, I reached out to slap his hand, and I remembered the shirt, and pulled back and said 'I better not.' That's when Ryan countered with something unprintable, pulled me in for a hug and said, 'You're my brother'," Bayes said.
"There were just so many people there that day, but it was really rather fitting, because Ryan always had a lot of people around all throughout his life. Even when he got really bad, I can remember ‘E-Mac’ going over to the house, climbing into bed with Ryan, and never leaving his side. Whatever Ryan wanted, whatever Ryan needed, ‘E-Mac’ made sure he got it. At his funeral, his procession was three miles long. I mean, they had to set up five tents instead of just one at his graveside."
"Even in his room at Hospice, when he was getting ready to pass, nobody wanted to leave his side," says Bayes. "And I'll never forget how when his time got close, his eyes got really wide, and he had this smile on his face. He had the most beautiful blue eyes, and I was so glad I got to see them one last time. He had this cocky smile on his face, and it was pure Ryan. It was like he was looking right through all of us, and he could see a better place."