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The end of the season NewsTribune sports awards are not as important as a Purple Heart, a Pulitzer Prize or an Emmy.
The selected winner doesn’t receive a plaque, a medal or a statue.
However, to the Illinois Valley they are important because they tell a story.
The list of players who have won the award — which is published with each annual addition — sparks fond memories of specific players, teams and unbelievable feats.
This can’t be said more than for the 2001 NT Baseball Player of the Year.
“It’s always a good feeling when you get something like that,” said the 2001 winner, former La Salle-Peru pitcher Brock Keffer. “We never spoke about that actually. J.A Happ and I were always fairly good buddies and always liked solid competition.”
During their senior campaigns, Keffer and Happ — former St. Bede ace and current Toronto Blue Jays pitcher — were battling for the area’s mound supremacy.
With each game, with each throw, the area was buzzing about Keffer’s power arm as he was clocked at 94 mph during his first game of the 2001 season and had a consistent 91-92 mph fastball, and the 0.68 ERA Happ recorded.
“I always joked around in the office, ‘Man, if we had both of those guys, we might have something,’” former L-P baseball coach and current St. Bede assistant Bill Booker said. “It would have been really fun to have both of them. (The area) had two of the best pitchers in Illinois — one at St. Bede and one at L-P. It was really a neat year.
“There are a couple of instances that I distinctively remember. I can remember it was his bullpen day and it was in the fifth or sixth inning and (the opponent) loaded the bases with a kid who had potential to be a Division I player up to bat. I brought Brock in and said, ‘Brock, can you get this guy?’ He said ‘Yes.’ He struck the kid out in three pitches, we got eight runs the next inning and that was the whole difference of the game.”
After the season was completed, the NT staff voted for the Cavs’ ace and leading home run hitter over Happ, who Keffer had played with in every level or organization of baseball except for high school.
“I guess you can say that,” Keffer answered when asked if beating Happ for the award gives it extra meaning. “I never really even think about it. I usually don’t bring it up and talk about it, but once you put it in perspective like that, I guess, yeah, it’s a pretty good thing when you can beat somebody like that. His career went further than mine and I’m alright with that.”
Keefer — a two-time all-conference first-team selection and all-state honorable mention pick his senior season — was drafted out of high school by the Anaheim Angels in the 22nd round of the MLB Draft.
However, the Cavs’ ace experienced back spasms and later labrum and rotator cuff injuries toward the end of his senior year.
He decided to go to IVCC for a year to rehab after shoulder surgery in order to be eligible to re-enter the draft after a year instead of having to wait for three if he went to a four-year university.
The Angels selected him once again in the 2002 draft in the 46th round, but Keffer didn’t feel he was up-to par for the minors, so he returned to IVCC.
During his sophomore season, the right-handed pitcher tore his labrum and rotator cuff again and decided it was time to turn in his glove.
“Learning how to throw correctly still, it was just so much pain after (the first) surgery to be willing to let it get loose again and throw as hard as you want,” Keffer said. “It was a little more difficult than just doing it. I didn’t feel 100 percent comfortable just letting it go. When I finally did, that’s when I started getting hurt again.”
Keffer isn’t playing baseball anymore but he still enjoys being involved in the sport with his children, watching the Boston Red Sox and other sports activities like taking the family to the Chicago Bears Family Fun Festival.
Coaching isn’t in the foreseeable future, but guidance and tips are already being shared.
“I work with my kids on baseball,” Keffer said. “My 11-year old (daughter Madison) is good, my 3-year old (daughter Naomi) is going to be good and my 5-year old (son Hudson) is into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He hasn’t picked up baseball, but it’s coming.
“Their interest in sports lets me teach them things and pass a little bit of my knowledge to help them and make them a little bit better.”
When Keffer isn’t watching or playing sports with his children at their Granville home or spending time with his wife Niki — with whom he’ll celebrate their one-year anniversary in September — he is selling cars in Peru.
Keffer, who detailed cars after high school, took an opportunity to move to sales at a used car shop and has been there for the last eight years.
He said he likes selling cars in his hometown because it’s better for the customer and him to discuss buying a car with someone you know, whether the association is family, friends, through a mutual friend or baseball.
“I bought my first work truck from him when I started my (construction) business,” said Andy Lamps, who played third base for the Cavs, frequently talks with Keffer and also enjoys conducting business with people he knows. “It was a good deal.
“He bought a house in Granville and I did a few minor repairs for him to get him and his family moved in. He is a really good friend and was the best baseball player I ever played with.”
With his busy work schedule, Keffer isn’t able to make it to many L-P games but said he always knows how they’re doing during the season whether it’s from a newspaper or talking with someone on the sales floor.
Although, if his children’s interest in sports continues to grow and overshadows Leonardo and the turtles, Keffer will know the scoop first hand.
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.
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