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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Interview Part 3: Ken Krahenbuhl, Focus On

Ken Krahenbuhl's ABD 18U Bulldogs get ready for a tournament in 2013. (Photo Provided)
Part 1: Still Pitched | Part 2: Same Field | Part 3: Focus On

It was about two days after that Good Morning America came to town, Ken Krahenbuhl recalled.

The interview was conducted at Greenville's Legion Field, the same place where, two days before, Krahenbuhl had thrown a perfect game.

The topic, though, wasn't really the perfect game. It was how Krahenbuhl got there, traded from one independent team to another, essentially for 10 pounds of catfish.

"You just go with it," Krahenbuhl told The Greatest 21 Days recently of the attention that followed The Trade in 1998. "There's nothing you can do. I knew the story behind it. I knew they were just trying to get some publicity."

Maybe, too, Krahenbuhl thought, his old team was trying to get back at Krahenbuhl for forcing the trade in the first place. If it was that, Krahenbuhl noted, it didn't work.

"It seemed to kind of backfire on them," Krahenbuhl added, "because I threw a perfect game in my first start."
Ken Krahenbuhl with the scoreboard from his 1998 Greenville perfect game, from a handout. (Photo Provided)
Krahenbuhl spoke with The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his California home. Krahenbuhl spoke about what got him to the pros, growing up in Southern California drawing the interests of scouts at the age of 16 with a 90 mph fastball, all as the son of foster parents.

He also spoke of turning pro, his constant battle with injuries, his new baseball life in independent ball and his ultimate turn to coaching youth and helping them get to college.

And he talked about The Trade, the one that sent him from one independent team to another, essentially in exchange for 10 pounds of catfish. And how he came out in his first start with his new team made the legend his own, by throwing that perfect game.

Krahenbuhl's road in independent ball to that trade and that perfect included stops in Rochester, Minn., Palm Springs and Oxnard in California and Pasco in Washington with Tri-City.

It was after his brief run with Tri-City in 1996 that Krahenbuhl thought he saw an end to his playing days with the birth of his son. But, in 1997, it was the Greenville Bluesmen on the phone.

The Bluesmen wanted him to come pitch and be a coach. With a good salary and add-ons, Krahenbuhl was back in the game. And he helped the Bluesmen to the 1997 Texas-Louisiana League championship.

For 1998, Krahenbuhl stayed closer to home, in Oxnard, signing with the Pacific Suns. With them, he went 4-5, with a 3.51 ERA. It was a bad team and Krahenbuhl wanted out. He wanted out, not so much for the play on the field, but for the turmoil in team offices. Checks were arriving late, he recalled.

After weeks of asking for a trade, Krahenbuhl made his own. He hopped on a plane to Mississippi and Greenville, the team he'd played for the year before.

"I didn't really care what I got traded for," Krahenbuhl said of the ultimate outcome. "I just didn't want to play in Oxnard anymore because of all the problems they were having."

Greenville Bluesmen players, including Jeff Schad (No. 30), warming up at Greenville's Legion Park in 1998. Ken Krahenbuhl played with the Bluesmen that year and threw a perfect game. (Photo by Warren Schad)
Krahenbuhl arrived in Greenville to the news that he had arrived just in time to start that night's game. He also arrive to learn just what he had been traded for: A player to be named, cash and those 10 pounds of catfish.

Krahenbuhl was pissed at the details. To be traded for something like that, even if for a publicity stunt, implied that that was what he was worth. At that moment, though, there was hardly any time to complain. The visiting Amarillo Dillas were waiting.

It was a pitcher's duel from the start, with the first run from either side not scoring until the eighth inning, scoring, Krahenbuhl recalled, on a dropped fly ball.

Krahenbuhl had the lead. He also recalled knowing something else: He had going a no-hitter.

It was also raining, the rain coming in in the final innings, possibly playing into the Greenville run. It also rained hard enough for the umpires to delay the game. But they saw the scoreboard, too. The game would continue, they decided, until Krahenbuhl gave up a hit, or finished off his wet gem.

Krahenbuhl recalled going out for the ninth to screaming from the fans. A line-out; strikeout, and a pop out and the task was complete.

"The team goes crazy," Krahenbuhl recalled, "and the first thing I tell my catcher is 'We got a no-hitter.' He goes, 'No, we got a perfect game.'"

Maybe all the water coming down during the final outs of that perfect game was fitting. That's because,whether he liked it or not,  Krahenbuhl now had a new water-based nickname: Catfish Ken Krahenbuhl.
Ken Krahenbuhl, far right, in his more recent job as youth coach in 2012. (Photo Provided)
With that perfect game, the first in league history, what would have simply been a few quick mentions in the baseball magazines blew up into something much bigger.

"It was everywhere," Krahenbuhl recalled, "Good Morning America, ESPN, Japanese TV. Every radio station, every newspaper in the country was calling me for the next three weeks."

Krahenbuhl gave interviews to journalists, autographs to fans. On nights he would pitch, the crowds seemed bigger. He even got some renewed interest from baseball scouts.

"It ended up being pretty cool," Krahenbuhl recalled of all the attention. "But, don't get me wrong, I was very upset about being traded for catfish."

Krahenbuhl ended up playing one more season, back in Greenville, finally ending his career for good.

By then, Krahenbuhl was excited about something else, coaching. And he was fine with that.

"Enough had been enough," he said. "I had my shot. I had my dream and now I thought I could help young kids."

"When I was a kid I was surrounded by a bunch of minor leaguers who taught me how to play the game right," Krahenbuhl added. "I wanted to give back to these kids."
ABD coach Ken Krahenbuhl, left, in 2013. (Photo Provided)
Krahenbuhl did some high school coaching, some junior college coaching and, more recently, he's joined ABD, Amateur Baseball Development. It's an academy based in Southern California with about 600 kids aage 7 to 18.

Krahenbuhl has the 18-year-olds, with his job to coach them and put them into showcase events where colleges can see them. The goal is to get them scholarships.

"Stay in school, stay focused on grades, work your butt off," Krahenbuhl, now 45, said of his standard advice to his players. "We practice at full speed because we feel like can't just go through the motions."

As for his playing career, Krahenbuhl said all his players know about the catfish trade. Any time there's an odd independent ball trade, he gets calls. But he doesn't focus on that. In a pro career that spanned eight seasons, there's plenty of other things to focus on, he said.

"You play in the minor leagues, you get a lot of stories, you have a lot of good memories from it," Krahenbuhl said, "and that's what I carry with me the most. Not the injuries, but it's the friendships that I made, the games that we played in and the championships that we won.

"I don't focus on injuries, I don't focus on the catfish thing."

Read the first two parts: Part 1: Still Pitched | Part 2: Same Field | Part 3: Focus On

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