Washburn baseball coach Steve Anson leaves a rich legacy
06/29/2014 6:14 PM
06/29/2014 8:54 PM
Falley Field sits on the corner of Durrow Drive and Jewell Avenue, the inconspicuous home since 1990 of Washburn University baseball.
On a recent Thursday evening, the sound of baseballs pinging off bats rings like music as the field plays host to a game between the Kansas Mudcats and KC Blaze.
For 25 years, this place served as the office of Washburn baseball coach Steve Anson, who passed away on June 22 in a tree-trimming accident. Anson, 60, coached the Ichabods for 35 years. In 1,645 games, he compiled an 844-798-3 record.
Monday at 4 p.m., the field will serve as the site of a memorial for Anson, and a time for the public to share their memories of a beloved baseball coach, friend and mentor.
Brett Ash couldn’t have prepared for the news he received from his father last Sunday afternoon.
Just 20 minutes before his team, the St. Joseph Mustangs of the MINK Collegiate Baseball League, was to take the field in Clarinda, Iowa, his dad called to tell him that his college baseball coach of five years had died.
“It was kind of weird because after I heard, I was pretty devastated for a while but it was one of those things where I just felt like I just wanted to pitch, I just wanted to play ball,” Ash said. “(Anson) always wanted to win, obviously, but win, lose or draw he just loved the game and so I had the opportunity to pitch (last Sunday) night and we ended up winning. It kind of meant something to me knowing I got that win for him, you know.”
Anson is survived by his wife, Dena, university relations director at Washburn, and two grandsons: Zach Linquist, who will play for the Ichabods next season according to an obituary written by Dena, and Seth Cooksey. In his obituary, Dena wrote “Steve was most proud of his grandsons.”
Blue Valley West coach Bill McDonald said he was “utterly shocked” to hear of Anson’s death.
McDonald coached for 30 years at Shawnee Mission South High School and met Anson during that time. The two played host to a baseball clinic together in 2005 and 2006. Over the years, the two spent time speaking about recruits and McDonald coached three players that later joined Anson’s Ichabods.
McDonald remembers Anson as the type of coach who cared a lot about the team as more than just baseball players.
“The thing that always struck me about Steve in my conversations on the phone … was just the kindness of him as a person,” McDonald said.
That rang especially true for Ash when he was injured during his senior season at Washburn. He was able to redshirt and play again the next season for Anson.
“He never lost faith in me,” Ash said. “He always instilled that mind-set that if I keep working and keep up with the rehab that I would not only get the chance to play again but also to be better than I was.”
Anson, originally from Mishawaka, Ind., attended Kansas State and graduated cum laude in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education. He earned his master’s degree in education in 1978. He compiled a K-State career record 19 triples from 1973-76. He was one of 21 former players to be named to the Wildcats all-Century team, according to a news release from Washburn’s athletic department.
Anson coached one year at Wayne State College in Nebraska before heading to Topeka. He succeeded Larry Elliott as head coach of the Ichabods in 1980. According to the release, Anson also served as an assistant basketball coach and assistant athletic director at Washburn. When athletic director Loren Ferré started at Washburn in 1996, Anson was not only the coach but the compliance officer, too.
It was his success and his ability to mentor the student-athletes that kept Anson at Washburn for 35 years, Ferré said. As far as Ferré recalls, Anson never sought a coaching position away from Washburn.
“I think he loved Washburn, he was passionate about being here and he never expressed to me an interest of moving anywhere else,” Ferré said.
Sure, there were difficult seasons, just like nearly every coach endures. In 2013, the Ichabods finished 11-33. In his final season as coach, though, the Ichabods finished 26-24.
Bob Fornelli, coach of Emporia State, saw a lot of the Ichabods through the years, including nine games in 2014. Fornelli enjoyed the rivalry and especially Anson.
“You just knew that you were going to talk during (batting practice) and you were going to talk after the game, give him a hug and tell him bye and ‘I’ll see you in a few days,’” Fornelli said. “Thinking back about it we did play his last game and that means a lot to me.”
Fastened to the outside of the chain link fence that encases the bleachers at Falley Field is a blue Washburn baseball flag. There are ribbons, bouquets of flowers and two baseball bats that stand against the fence, dedicated to the memory of Anson.
“It’s a terrible loss for us,” Ferré said. “He was just a nice person and a genuinely nice guy.
“We’ve had a lot of texts and emails and just calls from former players and people that knew Steve in the community expressing their heartfelt sorrow over this event.”
On Monday, the field will, undoubtedly, be packed.