“They stayed at the Sandman Hotel, right across from BC Place, there's the Shark Club there's where all the fans go before and after the game.”
“So after our game they had a couple drinks at the bar and met part of the Southsiders, they saw that my grandfather was wearing a Nerwinski jersey so they came over. They started hanging out with him and they hung out for like two hours. He said that was the best moment of his trip.”
This story comes during Jake Nerwinski’s second year with the ‘Caps when his grandfather Frank, the man responsible for the soccer tradition in the Nerwinski family, made the cross-continent trip from New Jersey to Vancouver.
“With his age, he hasn't been able to really travel as much across the continent recently but when he came during my second year for a weekend and saw me play, that was really special. And he always comes to all the east coast games that we have.”
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Frank Nerwinski initiated soccer as a massive part of the Nerwinski family. He was an All-American at Rider University in 1959, and was inducted into the Riders Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000.
“I think he just brought that passion for the game to my dad and then my dad brought it to me,” says Jake.
“From what I’ve heard from his friends and people that saw him play is that he was always just a tenacious, hard-working player and I think of myself that way too.”
Nerwinski shares a close bond with his D-Dad, as he likes to call him, that stretches outside the soccer pitch, and considers him one of the people he looks up to most in life.
“I remember during my high school years I went to a high school that was less than a mile away from his house so I would sleep over there four nights a week during the school year,” says Nerwinski.
“I had a really strong relationship with him then and we still talk at least once or twice a week.”
The Nerwinski Polish Culture
Frank Nerwinski was born in the United States but his parents, Jake’s great-grandparents, grew up in a small village outside of Warsaw, Poland.
“They came over to the US through Ellis Island and started their family in Trenton, New Jersey, which was a very popular destination for Polish people back then,” says Nerwinski.
As the Polish community took roots in the Trenton/Lawrenceville area, so too did the family’s connection to the area. Frank still lives in the same house where Jake's father grew up.
It helped that a significant portion of the Polish community came from the Nerwinski family. Frank was one of 13 siblings that all settled in New Jersey and helped form the Polish community. Jake recalls how large the family gatherings would get.
“We have a pretty massive Polish family that all live within five miles of each other in the Trenton/Lawrenceville area, so growing up, I remember we used to go to parties with like 100 cousins, second cousins, great aunts. It was definitely a really cool experience having that big of a family and them really being prideful of their Polish heritage.”
The pride in their heritage still runs strong for the family.
For the past six years, Nerwinski’s family has hosted the Polish Christmas Eve tradition, Wigilia.
“Everyone gets together right after they go to church, and every time we’ve had like 70 to 80 people over to our house singing Polish Christmas songs.”
Because of his heritage being such a large part of his life growing up, Nerwinski feels a special connection to his Polish background as well as his large extended family.
“I know my second cousins and third cousins are some of my biggest fans! They follow everything that has to do with me and the Whitecaps.”
Jake and Frank
When it comes to his grandfather, the younger Nerwinski has nothing but amazing things to say and makes it clear why he calls him his hero.
“He just accomplished all his goals he set out to do,” says Nerwinski. “He was the mayor for 18 years in my hometown and is a pretty prominent person in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.”
This close bond is why that trip his grandfather made to Vancouver two years ago still holds such significance to Nerwinski.
It was important to Nerwinski for his D-Dad to see him play in his new home because of all the trips he had made in the past.
“When I went to the University of Connecticut it was about a five-hour drive from Lawrenceville and he never missed a game. He would drive five hours there, five hours back every game with my dad for four years.”
Nerwinski models himself off of his grandfather both in life and in soccer - hardworking and family-oriented. That’s why his grandfather making the long trip to Vancouver was special. After so many years of hard work, Nerwinski was a professional soccer player and it only made sense for his grandfather to share in that accomplishment.
“During my soccer career he’s been there every step up of the way.”