When Tim McElligott is out on the field with the Blue Springs High School baseball team, it's difficult to tell the coach from his players. Maybe that's one reason why he considers himself an adviser, father figure and friend to the Wildcats who think the world of the man who will be the team's new head coach next spring. Perhaps that's why he has a weekly phone conversation with 2007 grad Nick Tepesch, who is now on the disabled list of the Texas Rangers pitching staff, and why he received a text from 2003 graduate Kris Johnson that he had just been called up to the Pittsburgh Pirates Sunday. “It's just amazing to coach young men like Nick and Kris – and then develop a friendship,” said McElligott, a longtime Wildcats assistant baseball coach who is replacing the retired Marc Hines. “When they come back into town and we have them over for dinner and they're playing with our children, or we go out and play golf or Nick comes to the high school and works with the pitchers, that's what it's all about. Those are the special times. “And gosh, I've been so lucky because I've been around a lot of great kids at Blue Springs.” The Pirates’ call-up of Johnson didn't surprise McElligott. The Pirates summoned up the lanky lefty from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to Sunday's 4-2 loss against Arizona. Johnson, a 28-year-old veteran of eight minor league campaigns, threw six innings of two-run ball, taking the loss in the 16th inning. “I know he pitched well, and the Pirates had a couple of chances to win the game for Kris, but it just didn't happen,” McElligott said. Johnson was able to battle his nerves and keep his team in the game for six innings. "It was a little nerve-wracking at first," Johnson told Tom Singer of MLB.com after the game. "I know we're in a pennant race. You see some of the younger guys come up (from Indianapolis), and you don't want to be that guy (who falters). Same game. Bigger stage." Selected 40th overall in the 2006 draft by the Red Sox, Johnson was left on the Boston scrap heap and even returned to the metro area to play for the independent league Kansas City T-Bones. “Kris hooked up with (Van Horn High School graduate and former Cy Young Award winner and ESPN color man) Rick Sutcliffe, and Sut taught him that baseball could be fun again,” McElligott said. “Then Kris went to the Dominican Republic (1.06 ERA while allowing only 37 hits in 49 1/3 innings for former major leaguer Moises Alou's team) and he's been lights out in the Pirates’ minor league system.” Over the past two seasons, Johnson has an 18-8 record and 2.75 ERA with Double-A Altoona and Indianapolis. Johnson spent most of this season in Indianapolis, where he was 10-3 with a 2.18 ERA in 20 starts. He also made five relief appearances. “Eight years in the minors,” McElligott said. “You have to give it to him. He could have given up, but he didn't. He worked hard and look where he is today. This all pretty amazing. To look in a newspaper or online and read the stats of you guys you coached – and later became friends with – is remarkable.” And it just keeps getting better for McElligott, as the Blue Springs Rod's Sports A's, who feature mainly players from Blue Springs High School, just won their sixth American Legion State championship and nearly made it to the regional finals before falling in the losers’ bracket finale. “Mike Rooney (the A's manager) is like my second dad,” McElligott said, “so I love it when the A's have success. Kris pitched for the A's and then Nick came along and pitched for the A's. They lost 10 seniors (who graduated from Blue Springs High School), and they're going to be young next year – and the Wildcats are going to be young, too – but the future is so bright for both programs. “And who knows, we might have another Kris or Nick come along. Although having two former players in the big leagues is just amazing. I am so blessed.”

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