The final torch-passing gesture occurred about 30 minutes before the first pitch of the College World Series last Saturday.
Lou Spry, the event’s official scorekeeper for more than three decades, connected on the phone from his Overland Park home to Shamus McKnight in the TD Ameritrade Press box.
McKnight had scored a handful of College World Series games and hundreds in his role as Nebraska’s baseball media relations director.
But now he wasthe
guy for the national tournament. He’d have the final word on the judgment calls. When TV announcers openly question a batter getting credit for a hit when his dribbler was bobbled by a charging third baseman, it’s the scorekeeper’s decision they’re challenging.
For 31 years in Omaha, Lou Spry made those calls, until Saturday.
“Of course, I was little nervous,” McKnight said. Then he paused.
“Absolutely I was nervous. I’m following Lou Spry.”
Spry’s call helped.
“I told him he was only the second man to sit in that chair for more than 30 years, but he deserves it,” Spry said. “He’s as good anybody, as good as I was.”
With that, Spry settled into an afternoon of watching the College World Series from his home. For somebody associated with the event for 45 years, the day was difficult.
“I can’t say I don’t miss it,” Spry said. “It’s been part of my life for so long.”
Spry made his first trip to Omaha in 1967 as media coordinator and served as the event director from 1971 through 1979. Two years later, while also working as NCAA comptroller, he became the official scorekeeper, becoming a friendly fixture in the press box at Rosenblatt Stadium and for the previous two years at TD Ameritrade.
Scoring the championship was a labor of love, so much so that in the first 18 years on the job, as Spry made the trip annually with his wife, Marilyn, the time came from his vacation allotment.
Spry, 77, had a sense last year would be his Omaha finale. He’d been told by Dennis Poppe, the longtime official in charge of the World Series that the job was his for as long as he wanted. But Spry also made a deal with himself.
“I told Dennis that the year before I get bad enough that you’ll want to throw me out, I’ll quit,” Spry said. “Last year, I found myself saying, ‘Spry, you should be better than this.’ I knew it was time.”
At that moment, Spry didn’t know how accurate his timing was. He continued to serve as the official scorekeeper for the T-Bones, and although he wouldn’t be headed back to Omaha this summer, Spry planned to continue in his role at Community America Ballpark.
But in the past two years, Spry has had both hips replaced, undergone back surgery and a gall bladder extraction.
Still, he jokes.
“I’ve had more than 100 staples in me,” Spry said. “I’ve been calling around to see if that’s a record.”
At the end of last season, the T-Bones honored Spry. Frank White, the Royals’ great and now T-Bones coach, presented Spry with a jersey, with his name and a No. 45, a tribute to his Omaha tenure.
His official scorekeeping days are over, but as he heals Spry vows to return to the ballparks, in Kansas City and Omaha, hopefully with visits to the press box.
“Just so I can wonder around and see my friends,” Spry said. “I treasured the camaraderie as much as anything else.”