By DAVE HANNEMAN
Ben Roethlisberger said he doesn’t plan on planting a pitch in somebody’s ear in a June 10 celebrity softball game he’s setting up.
But that’s doesn’t mean he won’t, either.
“I hope Mark Ritzler doesn’t read this because he’s definitely somebody I’d like to pitch to,” Roethlisberger said Friday. “I think I’d try to back him off the plate a little. I might even hit him.”
Ritzler was a varsity assistant in 1999, the year Roethlisberger shattered all of Findlay High’s passing records and set a few state marks as well in leading the Trojans to a 10-2 record and the second round of the Division I playoffs.
In slow-pitch softball, beaning an opposing player would be little more than a love tap between the long-time friends. But it underscores the atmosphere Roethlisberger is hoping to achieve in the celebrity softball game that will be held at the FHS Diamond at 1:30 p.m. on June 10.
Proceeds from the event will benefit Findlay High athletics and the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation, which has made extensive contributions to both K-9 and service dog units for police and fire departments throughout the U.S. as well as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“The police and canine units, well that actually started because of what happened here in Findlay,” said Roethlisberger, referring to a November 2006 incident in which Flip, a Belgian Malinois police dog was shot and killed when it wandered onto a neighboring property.
“My dad and I were always talking about things we could do, because there are so many causes out there. When that dog got killed here in Findlay, my dad was like, ‘Let’s do this.’ It had nothing to do with the foundation at the time. It was, ‘Let’s just buy them a dog.’
“We had friends on the police force at the time, so we did that and since then it’s really taken off. Last year, the foundation gave $50,000 (to canine programs) just in Ohio, but it’s all over the country.”
The foundations’ work with canine units has produced some interesting and unexpected results.
“We’ll go on vacations and trips and I’m always amazed by some of the comments I get,” Roethlisberger said.
“One time, in Myrtle Beach, a guy came up to me and said he was a police officer from a canine unit in Baltimore. He thanked me and he said, ‘I appreciate what you do, and I support you.’
“A lot of people might not understand how that works, but when you’re the quarterback of the (Pittsburgh) Steelers and you hear someone from Baltimore say they support you, well that usually doesn’t happen.”
Roethlisberger, a 14-year NFL veteran who guided Pittsburgh to Super Bowl titles in a 2006 and 2009, used to bring a Steelers teammate or two to Findlay High for a charity basketball game. But times — and physiques — have changed through the years.
“That was a looooong time ago,” Roethlisberger said.
” As you get older you have to find sports that you can participate in, not get hurt and still have some fun. So instead of doing a basketball game, we’re doing a softball game.”
Roethlisberger said he’ll be bringing 10 Steelers players to the contest, including his entire staring offensive line. Also expected to be on hand will be former Steelers’ defensive end Brett Keisel, a long-time Roethlisberger friend who retired in 2015, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive end, and Ohio State alum, Cam Heyward.
“For the local fans, we figured they might like an Ohio State Buckeye in there,” Roethlisberger said.
Five of the NFL players will be on each team.
“If we put all 10 on one team we’d probably get embarrassed,” Roethlisberger said. “These guys are pretty good at football, but I don’t know about softball.”
Tickets for the game are $10 and will go on sale May 7 in the Findlay High School Athletic Office (419-425-8216). Sponsorship packages also are available, with some including a spot on the roster.
Local and area celebrities have been invited to play, but the final rosters have not been finalized.
“I have a couple of names up my sleeve, some people I still want to ask,” Roethlisberger said.
“I didn’t want people coming out just to see a bunch of Steelers play a softball game. I wanted to involve the community, because the money we raise is going right back into the community.
“It’s going to be fun. We wanted to get back in full force and give back to Findlay and the high school that was so good to me, and we thought this would be a good way to do that.”