Nick Tepesch knows how to throw a surprise party.
The former Blue Springs High School, Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s, University of Missouri and major league baseball pitcher wanted to honor his former American Legion coach, Mike Rooney, who retired this summer after leading one of the most successful programs in the Midwest the past 27 years.
“Andrew Melanson and I had the idea to throw Mike a party, but we knew he’d never come unless it was a surprise party and he didn’t have any idea we were going to honor him,” quipped Tepesch, who lives in Blue Springs year round. “So we talked, and found out that Tim (Pace, from Tim’s Pizza) had given Mike a gift card as a retirement present so we used that as a premise to get him up here on a Saturday afternoon.
“Since Mike isn’t on any social media, we knew we could use Facebook and Twitter to let guys know about it, and we’re really happy with the turnout.”
Mike’s son Lance, who played for his father and is now a coach on the A’s, coaxed Mike into missing a Saturday afternoon of college football to eat at Tim’s.
“He wasn’t too happy about missing his college football,” Lance said, grinning, “but once we got him up here and he saw all his former players, he was pretty excited.”
Over the past 27 years, Rooney guided an American Legion team that has won six state championships (1995, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2013), two runner-up finishes (2000 and 2006), a third-place finish in 1994 and a fourth in 2017.
The 2003 team finished fifth in the American Legion World Series.
But this is the number Rooney takes the most pride in – 89.7 percent of the 341 players Rooney has managed have earned college scholarships.
“Here’s what people don’t know about Mike,” said longtime A’s associate and former state championship winning coach and Truman High School Hall of Famer Clyde Kubli, “is how hard he works to get his kids scholarships.
“He calls coaches on the phone. He talks with them at games, he sends them messages – if a kid on Mike’s team wants and deserves a scholarship, Mike is going to see to it that he gets it. And to me, that’s what separates Mike from the other managers.”
Over three hours Saturday afternoon, more than 30 of his former players made their way to Tim’s.
“Mike was the best manager,” Melanson said. “He could scare you a little bit, but once you got to know him, he would do anything for you.”
Tom Bush, a longtime assistant coach on the A’s, will take the team over now that Rooney has retired.
“Mike’s still going to be our general manager, there’s no way he could just walk away from the kids and the team he loves,” Bush said. “And look at who all came here today. It’s a who’s who of the best players in the history of the team. And Tep (Tepesch) and Andrew are behind all of this.
“I bet Mike doesn’t even know the impact he has made on these kids’ lives.”
Rooney, who is best known for his love of his team and his gruff exterior, choked up when the players presented him with a framed No. 34 jersey, which he wore for nearly three decades.
“This is pretty special,” Rooney said. “I was wondering why on earth we were going to Tim’s at 1:15 on a Saturday, but I’m sure glad we did.”
When asked about retiring, he simply said, “You just know when it’s time to step away, and it’s time. I’ve thought about it for a while – the game has changed, the kids have changed, everything has changed.
“I still love it, but it’s not like it was back when I was coaching Tep and those guys. The game meant something to them. It means something to the guys today, but not like it did to the guys back then.”