Kyle Lohse: Our Small Town Sports Hero

A New York Times sports article (10-19-11) reported that Tony La Russa, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, firmly believes that every player on his squad deserves an appearance in the World Series, even if it is for just one at bat, one pitch, or fielding one ground ball or fly ball.

La Russa’s sentimental side, along with his staff, believes in “being very personal, up close with (our) players….It’s not a line drawn and you rarely step over it. We really believe in a lot of intermingling and making each other personally accountable to each other. In other words, you care for your players. Actually, it’s a harder way to lead, because you spend a lot of time as a staff  thinking about each and every guy, every day.”

And because of this, I knew that  home town hero, Kyle Lohse,  from Chico, CA., would be making a pitching appearance in this year’s World Series, 2011.

So last week, I get on the phone and call Vicki and John Kuntz, Kyle Lohse’s in-laws. This was immediately following the Cardinals’ victory, in Philadelphia.  Vicki’s daughter, Gabrielle, and my son, Rafael, played together as toddlers.  Yeah – that’s how far back we go.  There’s just something about raising kids in and around the Chico area, that keeps people connected.

John answers the phone “World Series Central!”   And of course, we begin talking about how excited we are that the Cardinals and Kyle will be playing in the Fall Classic.  He tells me that Vicki is already in St. Louis. John says he’ll be joining the happy family on Tuesday.  He gives me Vicki’s cell phone number to call the next day.

“Hey Vicki,” I say, “Is this great or what?  Are all of you on Cloud 9?  When is Kyle pitching?” Of course, Vicki can’t stop talking, going a mile a minute.

“ Janice, I just don’t know if Kyle will be pitching or not.  You just never know what rotation La Russa will come up with (Loshe did start game 3), but hey – we’re there!  Even after being 10 games out with a month to go in the season, can you believe this?”

Vicki continues non-stop, about Kyle and Gabrielle, their two kids, the Cardinals’ chances, and everything baseball. And I’m loving this – another woman being this excited about the World Series, just as I am, here in this university town 175 miles northeast of San Francisco, CA.

And that’s Vicki. And I can see her, even 2000 miles away in St. Louis.  She’s got one of those classic, beautiful smiles.  Always high energy.  Always sweet and precious, just as I remember Gabrielle, her daughter:  like mother, like daughter.

Enter Kyle Lohse, pitcher for the Cardinals, since 2008.  Born in Chico on October 4, 1978, Kyle graduated from Hamilton High School. The man has paid his dues, drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1996, traded to the Minnesota Twins, then the Reds, Phillies, and finally winding up with one of my favorite managers:  Tony La Russa.

You see, I’m from the South Side of Chicago – a real White Sox fan, whose second favorite team is whoever is playing the Chicago Cubs.  And La Russa was manager of the White Sox for some time.  I loved Tony, and was sad to see him go.

That’s how I grew up, and I’m still that way.  And since one of the greatest rivals of the Cubs is St. Louis, I’m loving this even more.  It’s sweet. It’s wonderful. And to think that Lohse was originally drafted by the Cubs; oh God! Thankfully he never had to play with them – all he needs to do is talk with Ryan Theriot, current St. Louis SS,  who came from the Cubs.

Theriot knows what it must be like:  going from playing at Wrigley Field and the Cubs, with a plastic yellow noodle in front of the ballpark to greet you for every home game, to playing at Busch Stadium, in front of the St. Louis Gateway Arch on the Mississippi, welcoming the world to your city.

It’s a world of difference.  And it’s the World Series.  And our hometown guy, Kyle,  from Chico, CA.  is World Class.

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