It was hard to tell who was more excited, Kris Johnson and Nick Tepesch, two former Blue Springs High All-State pitchers who are now in the big leagues, or their former Wildcat baseball coach, Tim McElligott, who arranged for the big leaguers to attend last Friday night's Blue Springs-Lee's Summit North postseason football game.
“I knew they were both going to be in town and we needed to honor them,” said McElligott, who is now the Wildcats head baseball coach, but was the assistant when they played for the now retired Brad Mayfield. “They both said yes, and we couldn't be happier to have them here.”
Johnson, a 2003 graduate, and Tepesch, a 2007 grad, were honored with banners that will hang at the Blue Springs baseball field, and had their numbers retired.
“It's fun to come back and see a lot of people you haven't seen in a while,” said Johnson, who was called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates late in the season and was part of their September postseason run. “I was really excited when Tim called about the ceremony.”
Johnson was all-state in 2002 and 2003. His senior year he had a 0.83 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 59 innings. He also threw four no-hitters his senior year.
At Wichita State University, he was 16-2 with a 2.94 ERA and 2.39 ERA. He was the 40th overall draft pick by the Boston Red Sox in 2006 and was with the Red Sox organization from 2006 to 2010.
In 2011 he pitched for the Independent League's Kansas City T-Bones and was signed by Pittsburgh that year.
“It's taken Kris a while to get to the big leagues, so you know he's appreciative,” McElligott said.
When asked about his first relief appearance for the Pirates, Johnson said, “It was like a dream come true. Every kid who has ever played baseball in his back yard or for any kind of team dreams of pitching in the big leagues and it came true for me and Nick.”
Tepesch was first-team all-state in 2007 and was the Missouri Gatorade and Examiner Player of the Year. He was also an All-American that year and led the Wildcats to a state championship in Mayfield's final season, finishing 9-0 with a 1.50 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 59 innings that season.
He played at the University of Missouri, where he was 13-14 with a 5.11 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 213 innings. He was drafted in the 14th round by the Rangers in 2010 and picked up his first major league victory April 9, 2013, allowing just four hits and one run in 7 1/3 innings against the Tampa Ray Devil Rays.
He finished his first season with a 4-6 record and 4.84 ERA with 76 strikeouts as the Rangers' fifth starter. He was on the disabled list a portion of the season with soreness in his right (pitching) elbow.
“It never gets old coming back to Blue Springs High School and seeing everyone,” said Tepesch, who played a round of golf with McElligott last week. “I am so lucky to be living my dream, but it's weird to think about being a big leaguer, because I found out it can all be taken away from you with an injury.
“I'm going to do my best to be healthy all next season and help the team get back to the postseason.”
Mayfield, who runs the football stadium clock from the press box, watched the ceremonies with a big smile.
“This is just great,” Mayfield said. “How many coaches can say they coached one big leaguer, and we’re lucky enough to have two. And as great as they were on the mound, what makes this so special, is that they were even better young men.”