Life after baseball for Kevin Kristan rests, in an ironic twist, on the second floor of a funeral home.
Kristan, who still has some life on his fastball, pitches batting practice. His son, Ian, swings the bat.
"I actually set the cage up in the upstairs of the funeral home," confessed Kevin, whose family, including his brother and father, has owned and operated Kristan Funeral Home in Mundelein for more than 50 years. "I kept it a secret all these years."
Baseball lives on for the once promising right-hander, whose claim to fame is being dealt, in 1984, by the White Sox along with 1983 American League Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt to San Diego in a seven-player trade that netted a young, slick-fielding, loquacious shortstop named Ozzie Guillen.
More proof that baseball isn't dead in the Kristan family?
Ian, whose baseball future is alive and well.
The Carmel Catholic senior will follow his dad's spike marks and play Division I baseball after committing to Bradley University in Peoria.
"I believe it's a rising program and good fit for me," said Ian, a good defensive catcher who hit .298 with 20 RBI and boasted a .403 on-base percentage for the Corsairs last spring. "They teach hitting, and Bradley is a good academic school. It's close, but not too close."
Kevin Kristan was close to playing major league baseball. As close as you can get, truthfully.
"It was May 18, 1985," Kevin said. "I remember it well."
He was pitching for the Padres' Class AAA team in Las Vegas. It was the eighth inning. He unleashed a slider. Pain shot through his shoulder.
"I tore something in my shoulder," Kevin said. "I suppose in my rotator cuff."
That night, coincidentally, Padres pitcher Luis DeLeon got hurt. The big-league team made a decision to call up the 24-year-old Kristan, who threw in the low-90s and had good movement and equally impressive command. But when the Padres called their Las Vegas farm team, they learned Kristan had gotten hurt just hours earlier.
"So, instead, they brought up my roommate (Lance McCullers)," Kevin said.
The wounded Kristan came home to Mundelein to rehab. He went to Spring Training the following year, was assigned to Las Vegas again to rehab some more, but he eventually reinjured his shoulder.
The Carmel graduate had been drafted out of high school by the White Sox. He turned them down to pitch for Creighton University for four years and then was drafted again by the White Sox. At age 27, while pitching in Class A for the Expos, he hung up his glove. He went back to school and eventually joined his brother and dad at the funeral home.
"It's funny," Kevin said. "I thought I made (the Padres roster) out of spring training that year (1985). I was the last one cut. We played the Cubs that night. We had 12 pitchers still on the roster, and we were going to break camp with 11. I was sent back down to AAA. (Manager) Dick Williams said, 'You keep doing what you're doing. We'll see you here real soon.' "
Kevin never made it to The Show. His baseball career was, essentially, dead.
But now, 28 years later, another Kristan is starting to live his baseball dream. Ian took an unofficial visit to Bradley just before the school year started. He will make an official visit later this year and will meet his future freshman teammates as well as veteran players on the squad.
Bradley's cozy campus appealed to him.
"The grade school that I went to (Santa Maria in Mundelein) had 28 kids in my graduating class," Ian said. "Carmel's (enrollment) is about 1,300 kids. Bradley's undergrad enrollment is about 5,700. So I thought that was just a good, steady climb for me."
Having pitched through pain, at times, in both high school and college, and then seeing his big-league hopes dashed because of his shoulder injury, Kevin didn't want to put Ian through potentially the same heartache.
"He always said that he didn't want me to be a pitcher just because of all the arm issues that will go with being a pitcher," Ian said of his dad. "He coached my travel team so he would always need arms to pitch so I did that. But once I got to high school, he was like, 'OK, it's time to focus on catching, take care of your arm and give it your best shot behind the dish.' "
"He was actually a very good pitcher," Kevin said of Ian. "When he got into high school, I said, 'You can't do both (pitch and catch) because your arm is just going to wear out.' "
No one likes a dead arm, not even those who run a funeral home.
Life as a catcher? Ian was OK with that.
"I'll be honest with you," Ian said. "I don't have an arm like my dad did. He was born with a rocket on his arm."
Kevin can hit. As the son of a dad who played professional baseball, he knows the game. He's athletic, having played both varsity baseball and basketball as a sophomore.
Judson University also made an offer to Ian, who was talking to Iowa, Illinois State and Creighton, as well. Bradley recruited him as a catcher -- he threw out 24 of 41 would-be base stealers last season -- but there is the possibility he could play some first base if he shows he can hit college pitching.
"Coming up, I liked to pitch, but I always loved catching," Ian said. "And I love to hit. I knew if I went the pitcher route, I'd actually have to give that up one day."
Kevin Kristan throws BP every day, he says. He pitches to Ian, to Ian's teammates. Old ballplayers never die. They just keep breathing life into the game.
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