Editor’s Note:Front Row salutes Father’s Day with another ESPN employee’s perspective on the observance. Friday, NFL analyst Mark Schlereth shared his thoughts on watching his son Daniel perform as a Detroit Tigers pitcher. Today, Baseball Tonight‘s Wendi Nix offers her thoughts on the influence sports has had on her family.
Wendi Nix has a lifetime of sports experience. Literally.
Long before she became a host of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, or a reporter on Sunday Night Baseball, Nix was breaking down game film.
At four years old.
Wayne Nix, Wendi’s dad, was the head football coach and athletic director at Gilbert (S.C.) High School.
Wendi’s fondest memories of her father center around the gridiron on Friday nights.
Front Row had the opportunity to catch up with Wendi, who told us about her father’s coaching days, the invention of Mongo Ball, and how her Dad’s influence prepared her for the ESPN spotlight.
FR: How important was that time you spent with your Dad on the football field?
WN: My earliest memories, without question, are in and around a football field with my Dad. I am six years older than my brother, so as a young coach with only one kid, my Dad brought me along to practice. It has always been — and continues to be — a place of comfort for me. Any stadium — especially when quiet — makes me happy. The high school players he coached seemed so old at the time and it was like having an entire team of big brothers.
FR: How did your dad’s coaching days spark your love for sports?
WN: What struck me then, and a big reason why I love sports now, is how everyone was equal. All those kids came from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, but they were the same when they played football. They treated me the same and I learned to see them the same way.
FR: Did your Dad ever let you in on his coaching secrets?
WN: Because this was a long time ago, coaches still broke down film in the true sense of the word. No computers. So every Saturday, the coaches would come to our house and they would project the film on the wall to go through it. I sat in on these sessions and learned to diagram simple plays by four or five years old. Sadly, I could probably do it better back then, than now. More practice!
FR: Have you ever considered coaching?
WN: I would definitely consider teaching. Because at that high school level, coaching really is teaching. It’s a chance to guide young people and influence their choices at a pivotal time in their lives.
FR: What sports did you play as a child?
WN: I was not a great athlete, but it didn’t stop me from trying. I grew up in a neighborhood full of boys and we played everything. It was football, basketball and kickball from sun up to sun down. I still have more than a few scars from a game we invented called Mongo Ball. For anyone unfamiliar, Mongo Ball is tackle basketball. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It was so much fun, but often painful.
FR: What is a typical Father’s Day like in the Nix home?
WN: I am almost always working. The same can be said for Mother’s Day and most other holidays. My family, however, understands completely. I learned from my Dad that good coaches make lots of sacrifices, it’s just the way it goes, and I make many of those now. I do think it’s fun for them to see where I am and what I’m doing. For the past four Father’s Days, I have been at the US Open. My father played golf in college and is an avid golfer still, so I’ve made a point of calling each year while walking up the 18th fairway. Last year at Pebble [Beach], it was pretty cool. This year, I will call from Wrigley Field.
FR: What feedback does your father offer on your work during Sunday Night Baseball and Baseball Tonight?
WN: Both of my parents have definite opinions about my work. We are a fiery bunch. Over time, they’ve learned to say less. Probably because I started hanging up. 🙂 Literally. It’s an interesting way to live, this bouncing around to random games and places, but it works for me. Most likely because it’s all I’ve ever really known.