By Bob Elliott
SURREY, B.C. -- He is close friends with Hall of Famers.
His fantasy football partner managed two World Series winners.
He tells a story as well as anyone, the same league as Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, scouts Bobby Mattick, Ellis Clary and Huey Alexander.
Yet, unless you are are a amateur coach or from Minnesota you probably haven’t heard his name.
His name is Mark (Lunch) McKenzie.
And this is his story.
You don’t have to be a coach to want to know about Lunch McKenzie, only a parent or someone proud of their country.
Former Jay Homer Bush gave an eloquent speech at the 50th annual B.C. Minor banquet Saturday night. Duane Ward held a room captive, especially the umpires, as the Blue Jays contributed to a successful event with 200 coaches attending.
Yet, the man who dominated instructional sessions, hallways and suites was McKenzie, coach at Concordia-St. Paul University Golden Bears, a NCAA Division II school in the hometown of former Blue Jays post-season studs: Paul Molitor, Jack Morris and Dave Winfield.
Oakland A’s slugger Reggie Jackson was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1968. On the A’s next visit to Metropolitan Stadium, Lunch, 16, was a visiting clubhouse attendant.
His duties included cleaning cleats, washing uniforms and picking up equipment.
Lunch asked Jackson to autograph the SI cover and then asked: who holds the New York Yankees record for career home runs?
“Get out of here kid,” Jackson said. “You’re out of your league.”
McKenzie took a breath and asked again “Mr. Jackson, could you please answer the question.”
Jackson answered: “Babe Ruth, 714 homers.”
“No, it wasn’t,” McKenzie said.
Nearby Catfish Hunter, Sal Bando and Dick Green snickered: a clubhouse kid stumping Jackson?
Jackson guessed Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio before giving up.
“Mr. Jackson, it was Babe Ruth, with 659 home runs. He hit the rest with the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Braves.”
Jackson pulled out a chair and said “sit down kid, I’ll never forget that. What’s your name?”
Jackson came in to play the Twins with the A’s, the Yankees, the California Angels and the Baltimore Orioles the rest of his 21-year career,
The friendship grew.
When McKenzie’s wife, Linda, gave birth to a baby girl they named her Jackie.
Lunch asked Jackson to be her Godfather. Jackson said yes and the christening took place on Jackson’s next trip into town.
Carl Yastrzemski was McKenzie’s favourtie player growing up.
Lunch read that Yaz swung a lead pipe 100 times a day, so Lunch swung one 100 times a day.
Yaz wore No. 8, so Lunch wore No. 8.
Rod Carew taught McKenzie how to hold a bat in his fingers, not in his palms in the 1970s.
He taught him how to swing a bat.
He taught him to swing with his “hip, not his hips.”
He taught him how to teach.
The knowledge Carew shared helped Lunch become a head coach at Minnetonka High from 1993-1997, winning the conference four times.
The underdog Team USA, coached by Minnesota’s own Herb Brooks, met the Russians at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics in the semi-final.
Lunch rushed home from work to listen on radio, turned out the lights and drank a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Then, he went over to his pal’s house with 20 others ready to watch on TV tape delay.
“They didn’t know who won and asked if I knew. They asked for a hint, ‘I said it was going to be exciting.’”
Mike Eruzione scored with 10 minutes left in the game to give Team USA a 4–3 win.
Team USA beat Finland to win gold.
Baby Jackie was only 21 months old when she became ill.
The doctor diagnosed it as the croup: have Jackie breathe in moist air, use a humidifier or run a hot shower to create a steam-filled bathroom.
Except it wasn’t the croup.
Jackie tossed her bowl away refusing to eat, something she’d never done.
Lunch phoned the doctor again and was told he was over-reacting.
He laid on the couch, his baby on his chest, her looking at him with sad eyes unable to communicate what was wrong.
That night Jackie was placed in her crib and the next day, Dec. 8, 1983, Lunch went to his job laying bricks in Shakopee, Minn.
In pre-cell phone days an eerie message reached the job site: “Call home.”
“I told my brother, Scott, this is bad, real bad,” said Lunch. “He said maybe they’ve gone to the hospital.”
Lunch phoned home.
A policeman answered.
Little Jackie was gone.
The autopsy showed Jackie had haemophilus influenza. It could have been treated.
“People said we should sue, what good what that do? My poor wife, was dying a 1,000 deaths,” Lunch said.
The two decided to try for another child.
The first time they had sex they had success.
And now the Angels came to town.
The row of lockers on one wall of the visiting clubhouse is split by the entrance to the shower.
Jackson was on one side.
Carew on the other.
“Sorry to hear about you baby girl,” said one.
“How is your wife?” asked the other.
Lunch smiled and said “pregnant ... with twins.”
There before a Twins game, the two future Hall of Famers and Lunch hugged and cried over news more twins were on the way.
Jackson asked “can I be their Godfather?”
Doctors decided a C-section was needed since one twin was normal in the birth canal, the other was breached.
The birth of the first twin was routine and the doctor said “congratulations Mr. McKenzie you have a son, what do you want to call him?”
“I want to call him Marcus ... unless the other child is a boy. So they put the little name tag on his leg.”
Two minutes later the McKenzies had a second baby. Again the doc said “congratulations you have a son, what do you want to call him?”
“I want to call the second one Marcus and the first boy Paul, because Marcus is going to be a left-handed pitcher. Anyone who could cause all those problems, kicking the whole time, he has to be a left-hander,” Lunch told the doctor.
Only 8 1/2 months after the McKenzie’s lost their little girl Linda gave birth to twins Sept. 6, 1984. The toe tags were switched.
Marcus grew up to be a left-hander and pitching four years of independent ball, his final season with the 2010 Calgary Vipers. Paul caught college ball at Concordia.
The Miracle, part II
In my house we watch “A Wonderful Life” every Christmas Eve and our kids make fun of me when I cry.
The tradition for Lunch and his daughter, Kelly, named after former Twins manager Tom Kelly, is to watch the movie Miracle on Ice, released in 2004 with Kurt Russell starring as Brooks.
So it’s Kelly, Lunch, Al Michaels and Ken Dryden.
“Eleven seconds,” Michaels says, “you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles?! YES!”
Lunch gave one of his talks to a group children from age 8-to-18 at Target Field one day as an instructor at a Twins Youth Camp.
An usher asked if he had time to say hello to a woman.
The woman said “I’m Herb Brooks’ daughter, Kelly, I’d like you to meet my twins boys.”
Late in the 1987 season Jackson was in town, hitting .207 for the A’s.
A reporter asked how’s it going Reggie?
“Just great, it’s really great hitting .207,” Jackson said.
By the time he finished the interview and shower the post-game Saturday afternoon spread of pizza was ice cold.
As they walked out, with Lunch saying “c’om Reg, you’re still Reggie Jackson,” Jackson spotted head clubhouse man Jimmy Wiesner hanging sanitary socks at each locker.
“Hey Wiesner, don’t you sevre me cold pizza again, OK?” yelled Jackson.
Wiesner continued along the row of lockers, never once looking up and saying “it was good enough for Mickey and Roger.”
Jackson showed on Sunday, apologized and gave Weizer his end-of-the series tip.
When Jackson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1993, Lunch spoke at private diner.
Lunch has been a coach with Team USA and the development program for 16 years, working with Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and all the good ones.
He’s been a scout, cross checker, assistant and head coach for the USA National Team, his 1998 team winning the World championship as Lunch was awarded developmental coach of the year.
In all he’s coached 45 years from Little League to college and this is his 14th season (287-224-1) at Concordia winning two Northern Sun conferences. He has two Canadians on this year’s team which began play last week: Toronto infielder Yuji Suzuki and catcher Connor McDougall of Victoria, B.C.
Lunch was given the Baseball Canada Cito Gaston humanitarian award in 2010, for furthering development in Canada by a non-resident, joining Joe Carter, John Olerud and Moises Alou.
One World Series Tom Kelly press conference was delayed because Kelly wanted to know why Lunch had not played running back Derrick Fenner for the TKs.
Kelly helps runs Lunch’s practices.
“Chewed me out the other day,” McKenzie said. “We’re doing rundowns between first and second, then second and third. Now, we’re between third and home. TK goes ‘time out, you have to have a different mentality here. You can’t lose a game between first and second. You can here.’”
Eventually, he moved from the Twins visiting clubhouse to the Minnesota Vikings locker room.
Lunch got to know quarterbacks Eli and Payton Manning. A son phoned one night from New Orleans to ask Lunch if he knew the Mannings, who were in the same restaurant.
Lunch said they probably won’t “know my name, ask if they knew the visiting locker room guy at the MetroDome.” The Mannings picked up the tab.
A diabetic, he’s had his front teeth knocked out and had five major surgeries.
He’s worked four ALCS, March Madness and NFL post-season games.
He’s sat and talked with Jim Valvano the year after North Carolina State won the NCAA Final Four.
He’s shot the breeze with quarterback Joe Montana.
He’s seen winners when they cry, losers when they don’t.
His friends are Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew and Tom Kelly.
“And,” Lunch McKenzie says, “I’d trade it all to get my daughter back.”