This article originally ran in the Democrat and Chronicle on February 9, 2020.
by Caurie Putnam
Hilton native Jonathan Schwind’s professional baseball career with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization has taken him across the country, playing and coaching for farm teams from Altoona, Pennsylvania, to Indianapolis.
“The commonality of every place I’ve played has been a Challenger league,” said Schwind, 29, of the Little League Challenger Division, an adaptive baseball program for children and adults with physical and intellectual challenges around the world. Schwind, a 2008 graduate of Hilton High School who was drafted by the Pirates organization in 2011, found a perfect fit between his lifelong commitment to volunteerism and Challenger baseball.
“Service has always been a big part of my life; instilled by my par- ents and my faith,” said the son of Dan and Cheri Schwind of Hilton. “When I got into pro ball, I was very lucky the Pirates offered a lot of opportunities to do a wide range of things to give back to the community and I took that to heart.”
In 2017 Schwind, who majored in special education and psychology at Marist College, started a free Challenger/Miracle League Baseball spring training event at Salmon Creek Country Club in Ogden for athletes from the nine Rochester-area Challenger leagues.
The 2020 event was held on Martin Luther King Day and drew about 80 athletes, over two sessions, to Salmon Creek’s indoor sports complex.
Attendees rotated between baseball skills stations that were manned by Schwind and local college and high school players and coaches. Many of Schwind’s friends and former teachers from Hilton also stopped in to cheer the athletes on.
“It’s so nice to have so many big names donating their time to play with our kids,” said Amanda Behrend of Hamlin, whose children play in the Westside Challenger baseball league. “It’s nice to be in a place that’s supportive of children with disabilities, because unfortunately we’re not always made to feel welcome everywhere in the community.” Feeling welcome and celebrated is the atmosphere Schwind strives to promote at the annual event, which boasts an almost 1:1 player-to-volunteer ratio. This year volunteers came from the baseball teams at Genesee Community College, The College at Brockport and many area high schools. There were also volunteers from the Brockport High School hockey team, where one of Schwind’s three brothers coaches.
“The amount of volunteers we get has increased every year,” Schwind said. “The event is for the participants, but the volunteers get just as much out of it.” Schwind’s family members also volunteer; his mother serves lunch, which is donated by the Schuth family, owners of Salmon Creek (they also donate the use of the facility). Backpacks filled with baseball swag for each athlete are donated by teams within the Pirates organization.
“Jon is just a very good guy,” said Ron Kampf, director of Webster Challenger Baseball, who is the liaison between the local Challenger leagues and Schwind for the event. “He genuinely likes to help people.”
Schwind, who won the 2016 Pirates Community Commitment Award at the Double A level and was mostly recently the assistant hitting instructor for the Pirates Triple- A team in Indianapolis, recently bought a home in Hilton with his wife, Lindsay.
He is doing private baseball instruction (last week he was in California training Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, whom he pitched to in the MLB 2019 Home Run Derby), interested in coaching on a college level and already planning next year’s Challenger event.
“This event has become something really important to me,” Schwind said. “Because I got drafted I never had the time to student teach, but in my heart I still have that passion for this work.”
For more information on the Rochester region’s Challenger programs, visit rochestermiraclefield.
Contact Caurie at caurie@ urgrad.rochester.edu with news from west-side towns. She’s on Twitter at @CaurieP utnam and on Facebook at facebook. com/BrockportBlog.