Matthew Keenan

Star writers among winners of KC Press Club awards, KC Star June 25, 2017

by on Jun.25, 2017, under Uncategorized

Kansas City Star staff members won top honors in seven categories — including investigative reporting, beat reporting and feature writing — at the Heart of America journalism awards ceremony on Saturday.

The contest sponsored by the Kansas City Press Club recognizes print and broadcast journalists working in western Missouri and eastern Kansas.

Star reporters Donna McGuire, Glenn Rice and Ian Cummings were awarded first place for investigative reporting, recognizing their work detailing how Kansas City police detectives failed to properly investigate some rapes, serious abuse and other crimes against the city’s children.

McGuire also won first place awards in the contest’s profile and feature categories.

Judy L. Thomas was recognized with first place awards for both beat reporting and business reporting.

Beth Lipoff won first, second and third place awards for magazine stories. Matthew Keenan won first place in the non-news column/blog category, where Sarah Gish won second place.
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Thanks for the memories …. 17 years of writing for the Kansas City Star comes to an end

by on Jan.19, 2017, under Uncategorized

After many years of writing in this space, today’s column is my last. I’m stepping away to dedicate all my energies to my first love — practicing law.

This excursion began in 1999, when an editor at The Star named O.J. Nelson took a chance on me. “Write what you know” he told me. And what I knew was the humor that comes with raising four children under the age of eight.

Through the years at the paper, I had seven different editors, all great mentors who trusted me to pick my topics and my tone. And I owe them all a debt of gratitude.

I also owe much to you the reader. Your e-mails affirmed to me and my supporters at The Star that there was an audience for a beleaguered dad offering commentary on such critical topics like what do when your son’s pinewood derby car turns in concentric circles, and the appropriate response when your aging dog gulps down two sticks of butter.

I also found an audience asking why college seniors are required to move into something called a “senior house” with nine of their closest friends, a rescue dog, and two cats left behind by an old girlfriend.

But more than anyone, it’s been my wife, three sons and daughter who tolerated my musings in which they were often described. I never used this space as a brag board; actually there were many times they were clipped by the bus.

Over the years, I relished sharing my viewpoint on the positive things that were a part of my life growing up. In some cases I was able to continue those traditions with our own children. Things like scouting. One of my favorite stories was joining my three sons at Philmont Scout Reservation ten years ago where we came face to face with a black bear. My scouting columns remain some of my favorite pieces.

In the early years my daughter was a frequent focus, like the time her diary — filled with fairy tales more elaborate than anything Walt Disney ever promoted — was confiscated by her brothers. As I noted way back in 2003,  boys have no appreciation for how a second-grander can wish for things that do not involve knives, BB guns or firecrackers.

Sporting teams gave me endless fodder, particularly basketball teams in the CYO league. You’ve heard of A, B, and C teams? Mine pushed the lower end of the alphabet. Every game my players had one goal — tossing up a hopeless three-point shot. Breaking news, we were terrible. But today those kids would swear we were undefeated.

From time to time I had the privilege to change the public narrative on a few important topics like when I wrote about the Irish priests who populated western Kansas in the 60’s and whose friendship with our family endures today.

Occasionally I wrote about the principal at our St. Patrick’s Grade School in Great Bend, Kan., Her name was Sister Mary Rose and to the students she was saintly but stern. Through my columns we reconnected. When she passed away five years ago at age 93 one of her last requests was for me to speak following her rosary. The essence of my remarks on that evening was that ‘everything I really need to know in life I learned at St. Pats from Sister Mary Rose and her fellow Dominican sisters.’

When I began this hobby as a columnist the President was Clinton, and we were just five years removed from the Today’s show question of “what is the internet?” Cell phones were in bags. And yes this newspaper had many pages of want ads.

I rarely received hate mail. But for the record, do not remotely appear to trash anything about Star Wars, that intersection on Roe and 435 – something called a diverted diamond exchange — or commentary negative about Bruce Springsteen concerts. “(How on EARTH does the KC Star give a smug little wuss like YOU an opinion column?)”

But my default was the life and times of small town life in the 60’s and 70’s and drawing contrasts to the insanity of today’s parenting matrix.

And through it all I had the privilege of 700 words to tell stories and hopefully evoke your own memories. Many readers were blessed like me to be raised in a simpler, more innocent time by two loving, devoted parents who sent me and my two brothers outside every day to succeed or fail but more than anything else to discover an uncharted world.

I miss those days. I really do.

Going forward I will remain a devoted reader of the 913 section as it highlights the hopeful stories of our county and state.


Read more here:
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Life Lessons Taught to us by our Dogs, KC Star, September 21, 2016

by on Sep.25, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns

Anyone who has read Willie Morris’ book “My Dog Skip” or seen the movie of the same name falls into one of two categories: the admitted criers and the liars.

Morris was an only child, and so his best friend was his dog, a fox terrier. Our four-legged friends remind us of our better virtues. Willie’s bestseller, set in the Deep South in the 1940s, illustrated that our pets are color blind. Skip made friends, who became Willie’s friends. That message remains as poignant and relevant today as when the movie was released 16 years ago.

Dogs teach us other things, like unconditional love, and to stop and smell the roses, the tree trunk or fire hydrant. It’s OK. Life can wait.

All these values were on full display two weeks ago at the Leawood City Pool for the Doggie Dunk. If you are a dog owner and have missed this event, make a note for next year. This was the 12th year of the event, and 266 dogs arrived, according to Kim Curran. Imagine a leash-free dog park at Oceans of Fun with a bit of “Best in Show” mixed in.

And in the middle was my BFF, Bernie Keenan. Bernie, who, to use canine vernacular, was whelped in January 2002, meaning she is 14 1/2 . And as any Wheaten owner will attest, Wheatens generally don’t live past 13. In adult years Bernie would be 86. Imagine taking your grandmother to the pool and being surrounded by hundreds of hyperactive kids who just gulped Red Bull. Bernie was looking brilliant with a recent cut and color from Winding River Pet Resort, sporting a green scarf with my niece Mary Hudak serving as her “visiting angel.”

At 5:10 p.m., the pool was already busy.

“Luckily this year we didn’t have any bunny rabbits attempt to make it across the pool deck,” special events coordinator Tony Nichols told me. “We have had pups that get in right at opening and then have to be forced to leave at the end. Two years ago, a Lab swam for two hours straight out in the middle of the main pool. Animal control had to help us with some poles to get him to the side!”

I don’t know if dogs go to heaven, but maybe it comes to them.

It had the feel of the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. You had the Germans (shepherds, dachshunds, schnauzers); the Irish (setters); the Brits (boxers); the Mexicans (Chihuahuas), and even some refugees — the mixed breed rescues. There were other varieties associated less with nations of origin and instead Leawood ZIP codes — I’m talking about the Labradoodles, goldendoodles, cockapoos, Schnoodles, Aussiedoodles, and some breeds that spellcheck can’t recognize.

And everyone was having a blast. Even though Bernie was far too feeble to jump in with the crowd, she was taking it all in. She just stared at all the activity, but when I scratched behind her ears, her tail moved briskly.

This was Saturday Night Fever for the dogs. Think a canine Tinder. A couple of Labradoodles thought they were on the “Bachelorette.” We saw a sniffing train in the baby pool, which is when three dogs flirt in a chain, while standing in ankle-deep water. Another dog, a schnauzer, wore a red shirt that said “Keep calm, I’m a lifeguard.”

Sure, you had a few dogs whose manners were checked at the door. One dog dropped a Baby Ruth in the wading pool. A few obviously needed to be “fixed.” This much was very apparent: Next year, the grass on the west side of the baby pool will be very green.

My niece loves the rescues, and volunteers weekly at Wayside Waifs, so we sought out these breeds for column material.

“The shelter dogs just kind of have a look about them” Mary told me. “They usually have some markings that you don’t see in other dogs. They are just kind of special. You’re never going to find two shelter dogs that look exactly the same.”

Mary led me to an Italian greyhound inpin named Esky, named for you-know-who. He was adopted by Olathe resident Wendy Melland. “We rescued him from Thankful Friends in Neosho, Mo., back in March. We trained him to be a Pets for Life dog.”

Pets for Life is a program where dogs are certified so they can go into nursing homes and hospitals and visit with patients.

“We have a daughter who spent a lot of time in the hospital and she loved the visits from the dogs. They need to be calm, loving, they need to get along with all types of dogs, they need to not startle easily,” Wendy told me.

“They need to be comfortable around beeping machines, equipment and if someone drops food or medicine on the floor, they need to understand a command to ‘leave it.’ 

Wendy’s first rescue – Kenny — came from Great Plains (SPCA) and now serves in this capacity in Lincoln, Neb., where her daughter attends the University of Nebraska studying pre-med. “We found Esky on the internet and we traveled to Neosho, Mo., to get him.”

As Bernie, Mary and I finally left the pool, I couldn’t help but think that if everyone took a lesson from our dogs, the world would be a better place.

When we got to the car, Bernie needed help getting in. As I wrapped my arms around her, her boney frame reminded me that she is at the twilight of her life.

And my thoughts turned to the prose of Willie Morris. When Skip passed, Willie was studying overseas: “He and my mama wrapped him in my baseball jacket. ‘They buried him out under our elm tree,’ they said. That wasn’t totally true. For he really lay buried in my heart.”

Reach Matt Keenan at mattkeenan51@gmail.

bernie-and-dogs dog-exiting-pool-singedogs-sniffing-dogs-sniffing-dogs
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Heat + Dust + Humidity = Let’s Go Camping! (published in KC Star July 2016)

by on Aug.06, 2016, under Uncategorized

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When the Irish priests came to Western Kansas: KC Star article, Feb. 1

by on Jul.03, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns

The movie “Spotlight” was recently nominated for an Academy Award. I watched it, like I watch most movies these days, alone at the Leawood Theater in Ranch Mart Shopping Center. “Spotlight” is a movie about The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning stories about the priest abuse scandal in Boston. It’s both riveting and depressing.

The horrors of the priest abuse scandals have affected communities and families around the globe, leaving lives ruined, faith communities disjointed and taught us lessons we can never forget. But those scandals did something else, too:. They tarnished the reputation and character of countless other honorable priests who have dedicated their lives to the faith communities they have served.

On the heels of that experience, I watched the movie “Brooklyn,” a movie set in the 1950s, about a woman named Eilis from a small town in Ireland. One of the central characters is a Catholic priest who sponsors Eilis and helps her find a soft landing in the states. His name is Father Flood, played by Jim Broadbent, and is a caring and nurturing figure, who, like Eilis, was Irish.

My own family’s story had threads that ran true to “Brooklyn.” My dad’s grandfather Francis emigrated from Ireland in 1867, passed through New York but kept going, eventually settling in central Kansas. Dad’s parents and his 11 siblings sought fellowship with other Irish immigrants in their surrounding farm communities. In 1953, they found fellow Irishmen of the most unlikely sort — Irish priests.

This was the work of one Monsignor John Cody, born near Kilkenny, Ireland, and ordained in Denver in 1923. He settled in Wichita, and then later was assigned to my hometown of Great Bend. Cody was straight from Hollywood central casting: medium build, jet black, curly hair, hazel eyes, an abundance of personality and charm. His pedigree was bolstered by service as an Army chaplain in WWII in the Philippine islands. A decorated soldier, he ultimately retired with the rank of major. And when he returned to Kansas he gained a new, if not equally challenging task: recruiting Irish priests.

His efforts resulted in more than 20 priests coming to the Plains. Four from this group were assigned to parishes in and around our hometown.

Three of these were inextricably bound together as classmates in the seminary: Andrew McGovern, Ultan Murphy and Eugene Kenny, ordained onJune 7, 1953. McGovern was the oldest of nine when he left for Kansas. “The hardest part was leaving family,” he once told a reporter. Kenny’s service followed the path of two of his sisters who became nuns — one of whom served as a missionary in India for 56 years. Murphy was the youngest of seven. Five weeks after his birth, his father died from double pneumonia. His mother never remarried.

Murphy told a reporter years ago that Cody was very persuasive, but also adept at omitting details. For instance, Cody described Kansas this way: “He said that there were two climates, hot and cold. He said nothing about the wind.”

When these three landed in Kansas in October 1953, the Diocese of Dodge City was a mere 2 years old, having been divided from the Wichita diocese. The assignments were determined by selecting cards out of a biretta in the dining room of the Wichita rectory. There were two versions: “Bishop of Wichita” and “Bishop of Dodge City.” There were six newly ordained priests in the room. The three classmates all drew Dodge City. Father Murphy recounted the drive out west: “We got close to Dodge City — there was no such thing as a four-lane highway back then. It was near nightfall and I said to the other two guys in the back seat — Kenny and McGovern, ‘What are we getting into? That broke the silence. We laughed.’ 

In 2001, the year before Father McGovern passed away, my parents took us to Ireland. The agenda included paying a visit to one of Dublin’s finest pubs — The Goblet — owned by McGovern’s brother, James, who showed us the finest in Irish hospitality.

Father Kenny would later officiate my mother’s funeral and then later preside over my dad’s second marriage to another widow, Pat Degner. Father Kenny passed away two years ago at age 84. At his funeral the attendees included my dad and my siblings. It was the least we could do for someone who did so much for everyone else. And when dad celebrated his 86th birthday two months ago, the one clergy present to make the party official was Murphy . Now at the youthful age of 89, he is retired after 35 years serving the faith community of Olmitz, a one-stoplight town north of Great Bend. “Everyone here is polite and they would welcome me into their home and take me out to dinner, and only for that I probably wouldn’t have stayed. I would have gone back to New York,” he told me recently.

There was a fourth Irish priest in the mix — Dermot Tighe, the 10th of 10 siblings. From County Roscommon, he also drew the Dodge City assignment, and after several years in Liebenthal, Dodge City and Jetmore, he landed in Seward, Kansas — the home parish to my dad’s family farm. Later Tighe was assigned to the Dominican convent, which likewise had a geographic nexus to our family — as in, across the street. When Vietnam got hot, there was an urgent need for clergy, and Tighe enlisted as an Army chaplain in 1967. The following year he served in Vietnam on the front lines. He returned to serve another 25 years in the Army and retired as a full colonel.

These were the shepherds of the flock that inspired me in my faith. They were emblematic of the book of James: “Faith without works is dead.” Since those early years, we have intersected with other priests who lack the brogue but still bring their own interesting pasts, and they have helped lead our family to spiritual fulfillment. Sadly, that cannot be universally expressed.

Still, the sacrifices of those four men represent the finest qualities in the human spirit and will always challenge me to be the best person I can be.

father Kenny murphy mcgovern
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We are empty nesters!!!! Again!!! KC Star, May 2016

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns

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Fathers Day comes early … KC Star, May, 2016

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns

I know Father’s Day is still a couple weeks away. With my own dad still very spry and fun at age 86, it will be a special day for my brothers, sisters and me.

But I’m pretty sure my Father’s Day came early. It did not come in the form of a handwritten note. Neither was it an expression of appreciation from a long-lost son. It wasn’t planned; it just happened.

This all came down on Saturday, May 14. That was the first Saturday Maggie, our daughter, moved back from KU. “Dad, I need to go to Verizon,” she told me. “My phone is fine but it’s three years old. They’ve come out with a couple models since I got mine.”

This was an unprecedented announcement. A Keenan kid trading in a good phone. A working phone. A phone that has never been found the bottom of a pool, bounced off a sidewalk, misplaced at The Wheel, dropped down the crack of an old suede couch, lost in a cab, immersed in a beer.

This is obviously the daughter’s phone. She was due. “Sure,” I said. “But afterward I need to go to J.C. Penney’s at Corbin Park.”

We headed to the store on 135th Street. Generally speaking, Verizon stores are highly efficient operations. An employee greets you at the door and when it’s your turn, they are adept at problem-solving. I should know. I’ve taken many problems there, including two named Robert and Tommy. And I’ve learned among the waiting customers that there are two distinct demographics — the teens who know about P-Diddy and those who think it’s a urological condition. To the flip-phone crowd, Drake is a duck, not a rapper.

On that Saturday we strolled in at 11 a.m. The store was empty. No customers. Not a one. Just behind the counter were five employees, ready to go into action. Maggie got the first one, a young man in his mid 30s.

“Let me look up your account.” I knew this drill. It takes about five seconds for the tech guy to understand that I’m no regular customer. With six phones, two iPads and enough extra data charges to prompt a Verizon stock split, I tend to get concierge treatment.

I watched him pull up my numbers. His eyebrows arched a bit and he looked up. “Yes. Mr. Keenan. I have it here.”

“I know. My account is big.”

“I’ve seen bigger,” he said. I held the rejoinder to myself: “Who? Bieber?”

In a couple minutes Maggie had a phone. “It’s going to take a while to upload your photos and music. Come back in a couple hours and it will be ready.”

For the next three hours I had my college daughter with no phone. How many parents living outside of Amish country can say that? Our next destination: Penney’s.

Long before Penney’s became a darling, and then a devil, of hedge fund managers, it was the jewel of small towns like mine. In Great Bend, Kan., it was a Saks Fifth Avenue, Dick’s Sporting Goods and pre-Walmart Gibson Discount all rolled into one. It had the first escalator we’d ever seen — and that was so cool. They sold men’s suits, top coats, bedding, fishing lures, Ping-Pong tables. It was across the street from my dad’s law firm, so we would wander over there when bored. I remember one Easter they sold baby chicks, which in a moment of weakness Larry and Mona decided would make an appropriate pet. It did not end well.

So even today Penney’s is my go-to resource for undergarments.

So imagine father and phone-less daughter in the men’s boxers section of Penney’s. And then throw in one more aspect of the day — I talk to people, particularly strangers. My kids think it’s weird, creepy, awkward. And so I’m gabbing up a storm. I read once in The New York Times where researchers concluded that kindness to strangers improves your mood. And my mood was euphoric.

Maggie couldn’t do anything other than stand by and listen. There was no escape to text, tweet, Snapchat, Facebook, plug in headphones and pretend to zone out. She wasn’t going to escape to the ladies fashion section to find Tory Burch shoes. She was mine. We had a deal.

The salesman in the men’s section shared my devotion to conversation. He and I talked about men’s boxers, waist sizes and other random topics. He was helpful, interesting and flattering. Like Dale Carnegie only better. I bought shirts, socks, undies and a pair of jeans.

Mission accomplished. Next stop: Land of Paws.

Like Penney’s, LOP also occupies a special place in Keenan history. It was the first home to Bernie. On this day, however, we didn’t see any Wheatens. Instead they had all kinds of Aki-Poos, Terri-poos, Cockapoo mixes — everything was miniature. Looking for a pitbull-German shepherd mix with a bad rap sheet? This is not your place. But if you want a lap dog that guarantees a billion likes on Facebook — this was pure gold.

Staring into the pens were children on the verge of an emotional breakdown when their parents declared, “Not today.”

They sold dog treats more elaborate than any cupcakes or cookie that I’ve had in my life. I was about to taste the icing myself, before Maggie reminded me that it was, in fact, for dogs. They had a selection of official Royals uniforms for your four-legged pet that would put Rally House to shame. We inspected cat condos with carpet that lacked something from our own carpet at home: pet barf.

There was a furniture section. I noted a handful of stair steppers: not for your toddler learning to crawl, but for your aged animal who can no longer reach your bed. I was amazed at the expansiveness of the store, with even a frozen dinner section for pets with paleo or gluten-free restrictions. Meanwhile, the lively lap dogs occupied the back corner of the store.

Maggie and I laughed. And laughed some more. And in the couple hours that remained where Maggie was phone-less we did a lot of talking. Actually I did the talking.

All in all, a five-star day.

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Coming of age with scouting … KC Star March 2016

by on Jun.07, 2016, under Kansas City Star columns


Keenan, Bill Niederee, John Holt, circa 1968

Anyone over the age of 45 remembers the network soap opera “Dark Shadows.” In the 1960s, it was carried on ABC and that was one network signal our TV could receive in the middle of nowhere. And my brothers and sisters were hooked on it. Our television diet then was “Batman,” “Perry Mason” and “Dark Shadows.” Barnabas Collins, a vampire, flashed his fangs and was always searching for fresh blood. He was the spookiest thing we had ever seen. And blood became something of a fixation for us.

A couple years later Darren McGavin starred in another vampire show — “The Night Stalker.” Also super creepy and it further ingrained our fascination with blood, life and death.

Our dad unwittingly contributed to this. From time to time over the dinner table mom would say, “The hospital called and asked your dad to come down. They needed his blood.” My brothers and I would exchange glances. “They needed dad’s blood! That is so cool!” Dad, it turns out, is O negative. A universal donor — which is precisely the type craved by vampires. And, I suppose, patients in the ER.

Right about this time, Truman Capote entered the world stage with “In Cold Blood.” It would be only a modest exaggeration to say that the Clutter family killing and Capote’s later work changed everything, but particularly in small-town America. And most certainly small-town Kansas. In fact, convicted killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith stopped in Great Bend en route to Holcomb on that fateful night. And the movie is faithful to this — the A&W scene was filmed just two miles from our house.

And in the middle of this teenage obsession came Scouting. And yes, the blood line continued. For example, this was our first introduction to ticks. It was May 1972, and a young Scout discovered one on his scalp. One of the adult leaders gathered us around. “Boys, this is a tick.” We all grew close to the kid’s head. The critter was bulging. “See, it’s full of blood! Ticks wait on trees for years and years until an unsuspecting Tenderfoot walks by. Then they strike and start sucking your blood.”

Most everyone was terrified. Not me. I knew all about that five-letter word. The leader then fired up a match to burn it out, singeing gobs of hair and likely inflicting second-degree burns in the process. Today any adult attempting such a thing would be in Leavenworth.

There were other things. We learned how apply a tourniquet — sacrificing a limb to save a life. We experimented with rubber bands during religion class. Turning your finger purple while Sister Mary Rose lectured us on the Holy Trinity was essential to becoming an Eagle Scout.

But the pot of gold was the opportunity to acquire a pocketknife. Knives were the stuff of Daniel Boone, The Lone Ranger and adult movies we could never watch. With a pocket knife, a switchblade wasn’t far away. And then you could be a blood brother — cutting your finger and mixing your blood with your friend. This was the coolest of all cools.

But to get a knife you first needed to demonstrate knife safety. This determination rested entirely in the hands of the Senior Patrol Leader, a.k.a. the SPL. When you are 11, the SPL knew everything. He did everything. The SPL was typically a Life Scout, which to a Tenderfoot was like a five-star general. He had a girlfriend, sideburns and absentee parents. Our SPL drank coffee, put mustard on his hotdogs and told outrageous stories. He was a man. In truth, he was maybe 15. But he had a knife, a hatchet and knew how to acquire a switchblade.

Part of the training required learning something called the “blood circle.” This is an exercise involving swinging the knife in a circle around you to ensure no one is close enough to be harmed. In theory when executed, the blade is supposed to be closed. In reality it was always fully extended and accompanied with a loud declaration: “my blood circle!” This was the Shangri-La of Scouting — to be allowed to wave your knife among your peers while using the B word.

You now had power to defend yourself against a grizzly, copperhead, or if necessary, your older brother or sister should they get out of line. You were also instructed to never, ever, cut down any living plant or tree. So of course that’s exactly what we did.

To prove your safety ethic, they awarded you something called a Totin’ Chip badge. You carried it in your pocket. It was the most important thing you ever owned.

As you might have gathered, the kids in our troop would never be confused with a Mensa convention. Like the cast in the movie “Sandlot,” we had buck teeth, bad hair, clunky shoes whose strings were never tied. Everything worn was hand-me-downs from our older brothers except for the Scout uniform. That was yours. It had your badges, your awards and your patrol name. And your scarf, which you hated because it choked and constrained you, especially when carving that green branch into a spear.

We threw the knives in the dirt, against trees, into the air. But if caught doing any of these things, the SPL made you surrender the Totin’ Chip , which meant, like the movie “Branded,” he took your knife. Life had no greater humiliation. To be knifeless was like a gelding.

Shockingly through all this, no one died. But every single Scout got defrocked. Over and over again.

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Sluggers baseball: Old school meets new school (originally published June 2006)

by on Jan.05, 2016, under Uncategorized

There was a time, long ago, when every grade school had its own sandlot baseball

team. And every grade school boy played on it. In the ’60s and ’70s, countless

kids passed the time on summer days playing pickup baseball games. They filled

the lineup with ghost runners and other things passed down from older brothers.

In my western Kansas town, Homerun Derby was the time-honored tradition.


The chain-link fence was about a hundred feet from home and everyone had a

shot to “park it” as we used to say. Back then, we rode bikes to practice and carried

a wood bat signed by Babe Ruth. Never mind that he’d been dead for 30

years. We did other crazy things, like drink water from a garden hose and mow

yards. Seasons lasted 10 games, and after each game you went to Dairy Queen for

a slushie.


But between 1974 and today, something happened to youth baseball. It ceased to

be sandlot. Someone decided baseball had to be serious. That you had to play 40

games and compete in tournaments in cities like Omaha.

Coaches formed premier teams. That meant good players got cherry-picked and

bad players got cut. Every game players were not just competing against their

opponent, they were competing for a roster spot.


Equipment got complicated too. Kids started accumulating things like bat bags and

batting gloves. Coaches followed suit. Neighborhood teams began to go the way of

the dodo bird. And baseball as a sport, not surprisingly, began to suffer. Surveys

reflect that of all the team sports, baseball is losing players faster than any other.


Our Leawood neighborhood was not impervious to all this. So in 2003 through a

set of circumstances I hope to never repeat, I found myself coaching the school

baseball team. And on the day of the Blue Valley sign-ups, four of my best players

got “recruited away” by another coach. That day was one I would like to forget.


So that weekend I sat down with my fourth-grade son Robert and cobbled

together a roster of new players. Experience, and talent level, was not a consideration.

And that summer the Nativity Sluggers, not surprisingly, went 1-11. The

next year we doubled our win total.


Yet, somewhat to my surprise, everyone was having fun. None of the players

knew or cared about our standings. Any my wife reminded me this team would

never have a problem that curses other teams: No rival coach would steal these



And so in spring 2005, something quite unexpected happened. In early March,

while practicing at a neighborhood ball diamond I noticed a boy ride his bike to

the field. He lived nearby. But this was not just any kid.


This was the best pitcher, the best hitter in Nativity Parish school. One of the

four players who abruptly left our team for greener pastures. He also happened to

be my son’s best friend.


As I pitched batting practice he walked to the outfield and started shagging balls.

Later he picked up a bat. Ten minutes later he was still hitting pitches that were

landing in neighboring subdivisions. I quickly learned that he quit his premier

team. In fact, he was not on any team. And so at the end of practice I did what

any good coach at that point: I took him to Sonic. There I ordered the

usual—chili cheese dogs and a Sonic Blast.


When I dropped him off at his house, I played closer: “We have room for another

player if you are interested.” His response was quick. “I’ll play.”


And then one addition became two. Yes, the second best player in the school.

And the Sluggers won games we used to lose. Kids at the bottom of the lineup got

better. Kids at the top got a lot better. Parents came to games in droves and

brought brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends. Like the Royals. Only fewer errors.


And we made many return visits to Sonic.


And no we didn’t play 30 games, we played 15. But when the season was over we

went from worst to almost first in the Blue Valley League. So this summer, I’m

happy to say, that in one city, one neighborhood, sandlot baseball is back.

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Our family Christmas Card, 2015. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to all

by on Jan.03, 2016, under Uncategorized

christmas card 2015

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