Chamber raffles autographed Kosich ball

by marlys good

The Greybull Area Chamber of Commerce will be raffling a John Kosich autographed baseball in a fund-raiser that kicks off during the annual Days of ’49 celebration.

The baseball was donated by GHS grad “Sam” Small of Crooked River Ranch, Ore. How did Sam acquire the ball? Well, he admitted, “There is nothing romantic or exciting about it.  We were cleaning out Cora’s (Sam’s wife is GHS grad Judy Grant) house after she passed away and it was in the boys’  (Bill and Dick) bedroom. Bill didn’t know anything about it so we assume it was Dick’s; he passed away several years ago.”

Sam took the ball home and it “lived on my nightstand for a few years. Then I was searching for something else and ran across it. I got to thinking that it should be in Greybull, not out here in Oregon, so I got the idea to send it back, see if it could be used (as a fundraiser) in some way. And I thought someone there might appreciate it.”

Kosich, a native of Vodizza, Italy, who immigrated to Chicago when he was 12 years old, played both baseball and football at Bowen High School in Chicago. He was All-Chicago in both sports, and signed to play professional baseball with the Chicago White Sox upon his graduation.

Playing was put on the back shelf when Kosich enlisted in the Army. After the war, although he had the opportunity to return to professional baseball when his contract was purchased by the Chicago Cubs, he decided to further his education and entered the University of Wyoming where he made a name for himself in both sports. In baseball he was an all-conference catcher for four years. Kosich told one of his former players that he had caught every game in his four years at UW, including all double-headers.

Kosich batted over .300 each of his four years “He was as tough as they came,” said Mike Schutte. “If you ever noticed his hands and fingers, I think most of his fingers had been bruised, knocked out of their sockets or broken a few times during his career. Catchers played with very little protection in his days.”

He played offensive and defensive lineman on the football team and was the first University of Wyoming football player to be named to an All-America team.

Kosich was inducted into the University of Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame in both football and baseball. His write-up at that time read: “John Kosich was one of the most outstanding and durable two-sport athletes in Wyoming history. A four-year letterman in both football and baseball, Kosich missed just two games in four seasons due to an injury. He earned either first or second team all-conference each of his four years in both sports.

Kosich is probably best remembered by Greybullites for the impact he made on the young people he taught and coached  in the 50s. He influenced dozens of kids during his tenure in Greybull and left his mark on their lives.

His influence extended to the baseball-loving, including a “Midget All-Star” team who took on an undefeated Billings, Mont. Midget League team that hadn’t lost a game all season – until it faced Greybull that is.

Kosich also played on the Greybull men’s team. Schutte, who lived about 100 yards more or less from the baseball field, was an avid fan.

“Greybull had a great town team with Kosich, John Copenhaver, other locals and a few UW players that we recruited for the summer and who were given jobs at the bentonite plant or other places.

“During one game, Greybull was at bat and John was sitting on the home bench down first base line. There was just a bench, no dugout or any kind of protection. The Greybull batter hit a line drive foul ball which hit John in the head and somersaulted him off the back of the bench. I think it would have killed someone else, or severely injured them. John got up shaking his head and said, “What’s wrong? Didn’t I have my mask on?”

Kosich died Jan. 3, 2009, in Billings, where he, wife Dorothy and sons, Lew, Daniel and Milo had lived after they left Greybull.

Schutte said, “He taught us about hard work … he emphasized that doing anything well in life would require dedication and hard work and that we would get knocked down many times and have to get back up and keep going on. He (told us) “develop that attitude now and it will serve you well the rest of your life.”

Sam said after his high school year, “I played baseball with John and I learned a lot from him. Later I coached a Babe Ruth team in Riverton, and I had learned enough from him that our team won the state title – that was in 1963.”

Kosich and wife Dorothy last visited Greybull in 2002. At the time, he said,  “Even though we have lived in Billings for decades, we still consider Greybull our home.”

We think Kosich would be honored that a baseball autographed decades ago would be used to better and enrich the lives of people of his adopted hometown.