The members of the Johnson County Community College baseball team hadn't the slightest clue why they were lining up outside of their dugout after a 5-4 victory over Coffeyville on April 19.
You'd think that a team would be making a big fuss as its coach approached his 500th career victory. But that just wouldn't be Kent Shelley's style.
For the most part, his players had no idea.
"Personally, if you want to know the truth, after we won the game, guys were wondering what was going on," sophomore catcher Tommy Mangino quipped. "In a way, that's good because we didn't know, and there was no pressure on us. We just rolled through it like we did all year. In disguise, it probably helped us."
It was a short postgame recognition, followed by some words from Shelley to his players and capped with a steak dinner for the entire team.
And that's just how Shelley, a Lawrence native in his 19th season as coach at JCCC, wanted it to go. In his mind, victory No. 500 was no more important than the 499 that preceded it. And that mentality is a major reason why he has been so successful.
"It's certainly a milestone in any coaching career," Shelley said. "I'm not quite sure what it says about me other than I'm old and have been around for a long time.
"I've never been a stat guy, never been concerned with my personal achievements."
If you would have asked Shelley after he graduated from Kansas University in 1983 if he saw a coaching career like the one he has had in the cards, he might have had his doubts.
|Who: JCCC baseball coach, 19th seasonCollege: Kansas University (1983)Family: Wife, Marge; daughters: Amanda, Madison|
After hitting .233 with two home runs in 120 at-bats as a catcher at KU over two seasons, Shelley took a job as a sales representative for a paper-supplies company in Denver, but life just wasn't the same without a ballpark in his daily routine.
Opportunity knocked when he became the first paid assistant coach in JCCC history, working under his legendary predecessor, Sonny Maynard. True, the gig only paid $700 a year, but it put baseball back in his life.
Maynard taught Shelley plenty about how to build and maintain a successful program, which made win No. 505 -- five days after claiming 500 -- one of the most difficult games to swallow. That victory pushed Shelley past Maynard on the school's all-time victory list.
"The 505th victory ... that was certainly a bittersweet victory for me, because that was one that I didn't ever want to really happen," Shelley said. "That is not one I looked forward to. Coach Maynard has meant so much to this college, to this program. In my eyes, he'll always be coach."
But over the course of his tenure with the Cavaliers, Shelley has built quite a reputation of his own, preaching fundamentally sound baseball based on speed, moving runners along the bases consistently and also sending droves of players on to four-year programs.
Mangino, a fellow Lawrence product and son of KU football coach Mark Mangino, joined the Cavaliers instead of taking a preferred walk-on spot at KU after graduating from Lawrence High.
Now Mangino is in the process of figuring out which school he'll be moving on to in the fall. Some schools of interest are Washburn, Rockhurst, Tennessee Union and Iona.
"Just being around him, he's got a lot of knowledge of the game, especially for myself, because I'm a catcher," Mangino said. "I think (he's taught me) the mentality of being a catcher. The mind-set you have to have behind the plate. He's talked to me about being a leader on the field."
Shelley is like that with all of his players, whether recommending them over the phone to his numerous contacts in the baseball world across the country or just showing them off during pregame warmups.
And Shelley wants nothing more than just to keep going along, doing things the way he has for 19 years for as long as he can.