For more than 50 years, not a day has gone by that baseball hasn’t been on Dan Kennedy’s mind.
The 1953 Vienna High School graduate traveled throughout Trumbull County as a coach. Although he also coached the Little League and the Warren AA League, Kennedy never strayed too far from his roots in Vienna.
To say that Kennedy, who died in December at the age of 85, devoted himself to baseball would be an understatement. Even in his later years, on Christmas mornings, he wouldn’t open things like gift cards or shirts.
Kennedy would open gifts like radar guns, rubber bands and baseball practice books. His love for the game grew out of the similarities between baseball and everyday life. It then grew and continued to grow over the years and mentored generations to come.
“He was like your perfect American,” said Mathews baseball coach Jared Terlecky. “He loved his family, he loved his community and he loved baseball. Once I asked him, ‘Dan, why do you like baseball so much?’ He says, “Baseball is a game of life. There are parallels between life and baseball. Sometimes you have a good day, it seems like the ball is bouncing your way and everything is going as planned, and then other days it seems like nothing is going to go as planned.
“It teaches you all these lessons about patience, trust, hard work, getting up on a day when it’s not going too well or not climbing too high when the day is going well because it will humble you all the same.'”
His dedication culminated in 1975 when he helped build a new lot behind Baker Elementary School, where the program still airs to this day. In 2010, the field was named in his honor for all he had done for Mathews baseball over the years.
Even after leaving the program to Terlecky, his then-assistant now coach, he couldn’t stay away for long.
Kennedy insisted on giving Terlecky a season to run the show, but as year two approached, that itch to get back in the dugout, which never really left, became too much to bear, as he joined the Mustangs as an assistant.
“He had come to the games and I could see him chomping at the bit to get back into the dugout, but he didn’t because he really wanted me to run the show,” said Terlecky. “Then the next year, I asked him, ‘Well, are you coming back? And he was like, ‘Thank God, I thought you’d never ask.’ I told him, ‘If you’re in a wheelchair, we’ll put you in the canoe. We’ll get you in here, mate.
With the pair in control, no matter the odds, no matter who was in the opposing dugout, there was no doubt in Kennedy’s mind that his team was going to win. That belief was infectious as the Mustangs scored 130 wins with Kennedy as the team’s head coach and many more over the past decade as Terlecky’s right-hand man.
“He convinced these children to win” said Terlecky. “He always thought we were going to win. It can also be contagious. You know that can really affect the kids. And we will certainly miss it.
It wasn’t just confidence, it was positivity.
Matt Weymer, a 2005 Mathews graduate, described himself as a “kind of half-empty glass type”but even he was not immune to Kennedy’s positivity.
“Coach Kennedy was relentlessly positive,” said Weymer. “There was never a game or a team we weren’t going to beat. No matter how long the odds lasted, how bleak it looked, or how badly you felt like you played, Coach Kennedy was just one of those guys who could always make you want to come back the next day and make you feel like you were going to be even better than you had ever been before.
His confidence came with superstition though. But only with certain things.
Jersey numbers are a common superstition, but not for Kennedy. While every player had to choose their own jersey number – even to the point where Kennedy would spend a few seasons in a jersey several sizes too big – it’s the little things that would cause superstition.
Sometimes those little things weren’t small though. In fact, sometimes it took a village to follow these superstitions.
“When I was in Little League, he was our coach in an all-star tournament at Brookfield, and we came from behind by about 10 points to win that game,” said Terlecky. “He was like sitting there the whole game next to this big rock. This rock was this big old rock, I bet it weighed 50 pounds. Next thing you know, he called it our lucky rock. So he and the other coaches have continued to bring it to all of our games in this tournament.
“I asked him a few years ago and he still has that rock. In the flowerbeds. I was looking at his flower bed and there were like eight different rocks from different teams where that was the lucky stone that year they used to bring to games and stuff. So his wife’s flower bed had all these various rocks from different seasons and stuff like that. I think he even had a few rocks in the house too.
If something was going well, don’t expect there to be a change anywhere. Even down to the pencils in the logbook. If things worked, nothing was allowed to change.
“One year we bought new bases for the pitch, but I didn’t want to put them on like the first day because it was really muddy and I wanted to wait.” said Terlecky. “We ended up playing really well and we ended up continuing that winning streak, like 12 games. He wouldn’t let us change them and put on these brand new bases. The old ones are all chewed up, there’s like a piece coming off of this one, but he says “No, we’re on a winning streak.” We cannot change.
“Whenever you were on a winning streak you always had to keep doing everything exactly the same way. You had to keep the score with the same pencil on the book and in the score book you had to write so that the he batting order remains the same and we had to do batting practice in the same order.
Jersey numbers never affected his superstitions as Kennedy’s priority was children. Anything he could do to help the kids, he would do. If a player needed equipment, Kennedy would take care of it without hesitation.
For the past two years, Kennedy has bought what should be a truckload of granola bars as snacks for the kids. They could of course have as many as they wanted.
Thinking of ways to honor him, Terlecky found himself in trouble. While he wanted to put something on hats this season – Kennedy had hats from each season neatly lined up in order in his house – Terlecky could already hear his longtime friend’s voice say “No.”
After all, that money could be spent elsewhere.
“I can hear him now saying, ‘You should have spent that money on something else. We could have had another bat for the team'” said Terlecky. “He always wanted that money to be spent on the team. We would have a fundraiser, buy the kids’ equipment and with what was left he would say, ‘Let’s get the kids, some pizza’. Or after the games , they were offered ice cream.
“Everything he had, he wanted to give to those kids, he loved them. And those kids loved him back.
While he may not be physically in the dugout this year, the legacy Kennedy left behind will be felt in the Mustang program for years to come. Whether through stories of years past or a cereal bar in the dugout, the impact left on Vienna does not disappear for a long time.
“Vienna is a small community”, said Weymer. “You grew up playing against kids and then eventually became teammates when you got to high school. That was the benefit of growing up in a small community. Dan was the guy who was always there. That he was High school coach or not. He was always at games. He coached a little league team, but when the All-Stars got together, Dan was there and then we went to play Pony, Dan was there.
“When he wasn’t coaching the high school team, he was always there because he had family or because he just wanted to be in the game. He was just this ever-present person and Never, never in a forceful way. , you know, just always with this idea of ’I’m here to help’…. He loved this community, he loved baseball, and it’s just a really unique thing. It’s a small, tight-knit community and if you don’t don’t live there, you probably have no idea who Dan Kennedy is, but if you live there, you know who he is.