EDITOR NOTE: The following report is by Dave Petruska, a former sports reporter with the Tucson Citizen who among his many duties covered Arizona baseball when Jerry Kindall was the head coach. Kindall passed away this evening at the age of 82 following a stroke earlier this week. Kindall coached Arizona to three College World Series titles. He is the first to win a CWS title as a player, when he was with Minnesota, and a head coach.
Kindall played for the Golden Gophers when they beat Frank Sancet’s Arizona team in 1956 for the title. He later replaced the legendary Sancet as Arizona’s coach. Kindall coached Arizona for 24 seasons and compiled a record of 860-579-7. His 860 wins are a school record.
I covered the University of Arizona baseball team for nine years, just a part of University of Arizona baseball coach Jerry Kindall’s long stint as the head coach, but during some difficult times for Jerry both on and off the field. This story below that I wrote about Jerry in 1989 was about one of those transitions.
Jerry was a great coach. He was an even greater husband, father and friend.
There’s this common expression about someone being God-fearing. To me, Jerry was God-loving. He was a man of faith, but he never pushed his faith on you. He would do bible studies during spring training over the years with the players from Cleveland, Arizona, Colorado and the Chicago White Sox and with the minor leaguers of Tucson’s AAA teams and if I happened to be at the stadium that day he would always invite this lapsed-Catholic to join if I wanted to, and on a few occasions I did.
Kindall’s Back From Tough Loss
UA baseball coach recharged with new life
Tucson Citizen, Feb. 6, 1989
Last year, for the first time in his adult life, Jerry Kindall didn’t want to hurry home.
The University of Arizona baseball coach dramatically changed his routine. He would arrive earlier at the office than he had the past three years. He would stay later after a practice.
He went on the road more often on recruiting trips. He left with the team on road trips instead of arriving the day of the opener.
The Wildcats had a large number of new players and were in a rebuilding year, but that wasn’t the reason for his extra effort.
Kindall wasn’t in a hurry because he felt he wasn’t returning to a home, but a building of brick, mortar, wood and glass. There was nothing there but memories, time for reflection and, yes, time for tears.
For the first time in 31 years, Kindall didn’t have his wife, Georgia, at his side.
“I just felt fortunate that I could lose myself in my job,” Kindall said. “The energy I put into it and my love for the sport hadn’t diminished at all over the last few years. I was just able to put more time into it last year than I had the previous three seasons.”
But for Kindall, a deeply religious man, his faith in God helped him through the rough times after Georgia died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in June 1987 and his father died last April.
A week into his 17th year as the UA head coach, Kindall says he feels renewed. That’s the power of love.
Kindall married Diane Sargent last Nov. 25 and, although they’ll have a long-distance marriage until June— Diane is staying in Colorado until her daughter, Lisa, graduates from high school — the marriage has made Kindall a happy man again.
“In a way, this is a new start for me, because God’s blessings through Diane are so wonderful,” he said. “I really didn’t feel when I lost Georgia that I would ever find someone I could love again. When Diane came into my life, I realized that love could be restored, and the capacity for love and the need to love has been a wonderful blessing for us.”
The previous three years were difficult for Kindall because of Georgia’s illness.
“We found out about it for sure on August 27, 1984,” Kindall said. “We knew something was wrong; there had been some signs before then that things weren’t right, but that’s when we got the news.”
They knew the disease was incurable, but they hoped a cure might be found in time. Georgia underwent experimental treatments. Jerry helped her tirelessly. They found a way to communicate after her ability to talk and write was taken by the muscle-sapping disease.
Through it all, Kindall continued to run the UA program in top form, said Jerry Stitt, one of his assistant coaches.
“Georgia was getting progressively worse, but J.K. kept everybody upbeat,” Stitt said. “I’m sure the strain was difficult on him, but he never showed it to us. He was always upbeat. We were all feeling down for him, but he just kept on going, kept on working.”
And Kindall kept getting results. The 1985 team made it to the College World Series and the 1986 title team won the CWS title. Georgia got out of her sickbed to fly to Omaha, Nebraska, to cheer on the Cats in the championship game.
The Wildcats qualified for the NCAA regionals in 1987 despite losing all but two starters from the 1986 championship team.
“After we lost so many players and had lost so many games early in the season, for him to turn that team around and get us to the playoffs, with all that was going on in his life … that, to me, was just an outstanding coaching job,” Stitt said.
Kindall credits assistant head coach Jim Wing and Stitt for UA’s success during his tough time.
“They filled in so well,” Kindall said. “They were taking extra office hours, getting the team ready for practice without me, taking care of the travel squad … I’ll be forever grateful for their unselfishness.”
The 1988 season was the time for Kindall to pay that unselfishness back. He resumed his normal office hours and then some. He tried to overcome his loneliness by working long hours. Often it was fruitless.
“But I don’t think he ever got morose; he never had any bitterness about what happened,” said Don Nixon, Kindall’s banker and close friend. “He got tremendous support from his family and his faith, and that helped him.”
The special family days were the hardest for him to handle.
“Georgia was with me for 31 years of my life, and the first anniversary, the first birthdays, the first special family occurrences that involved the children and that we had shared for so long … those were the hardest times,” Kindall said.
One thing Kindall missed was a routine he and Georgia would go through after a particularly tough day, said his son, Bruce.
“My mom would make him waffles and smother them in strawberries,” Bruce Kindall said. “The tougher the day, the more strawberries she would pile on. It was her way of saying ‘Hey, everything is going to be OK.’ That always helped my dad.”
Kindall’s four children took turns trying to keep the coach company. It was difficult because Bruce is the only one who lives in town. His sisters, Betsy and Martha, and brother Doug all live in California.
“There was a terrible void left in his life when my mom died,” Bruce said. “He scheduled more things, he kept busy, he functioned, but we could all see how lonely he was.”
Georgia anticipated that Jerry might resist dating after her death, Jerry said.
“She knew she was dying and she really encouraged me in a tremendous act of love—her final tribute of love and concern for me—to recommend that I try to find someone because she knew how hard things would be for me being alone,” he said.
Kindall was introduced to Diane through mutual friends. She had been a widow for more than a year.
“The friends said if I ever happened to be in Colorado, that there was a very lovely and godly woman in Colorado Springs whom I might want to look up, so I did,” Kindall said.
Kindall’s courtship was a hit with his family.
“Dad was really fun to watch,” Bruce Kindall said. “He was like a high school kid going through his first love. The excitement, the newness to him … it was fun to see him go through that. He had seen me go through it before I got married, and it isn’t often when a son can see his father go through the same thing.
“The best part, though, was when he started asking me for advice about dating. Talk about your role reversals.”
Diane, meanwhile, was going through the same thing with her daughter, Lisa, who is 18.
“It’s very a strange thing for teenager to have her mother dating at the same time,” Diane said. “She thought it was amusing. She kept saying things to me about how the way statistics go, that she should be dating and I shouldn’t, but I thought she handled the situation very well.”
The first date was for dinner, and not surprisingly, a minor league baseball game in Colorado Springs, even though Diane said her interest in sports was minimal.
“I never paid much attention to baseball before, but the game was very interesting because Jerry made it interesting,” she said. “He knows the game and he knew so much background information on all the players. He was very patient in explaining what was going on because I’m sure I asked a lot of stupid questions. We had a wonderful time, and things just kept getting better and better after that.”
Bruce Kindall said he hopes there is nothing but good times ahead for his father.
“My mom and dad had a great marriage, but because fate stepped in, he’s had to go on without her,” he said. “It’s a new segment in his life, one our family can only hope will bring him happiness and peace of mind.”