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Monday, July 9, 2018

Tom Keegan: Eric Peterson follows baseball dream back home to Lawrence

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Dreams take the sleeping mind to such strange places, so different from anywhere the waking mind wanders.

Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that young people so often are willing to take wild detours to places so different from where they imagined they would travel to pursue their career dreams.

After pitching for Free State High School, the University of Kansas and Pittsburg State, Eric Peterson had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to become a baseball coach.

Peterson lost his mother to breast cancer when he was 14 and his father to bladder cancer when he was 21. They weren’t there to give him career advice when he graduated, so he followed the instincts they had instilled in him and he pursued his passion.

Peterson’s grandmother, Mable Heinrich, helped him to purchase a black 2008 Mazda 6, and he steered it wherever his career ambitions took him. That Mazda, stuffed with all of his belongings, took him from Pittsburg to Fort Scott to Niagara, N.Y., to Lawrence, to Ypsilanti, Mich., and to Springfield, Mo.

He worked for the college baseball programs of Pittsburg State, Fort Scott Community College, Niagara University, Kansas, Eastern Michigan University and, for the past four years, Drury University, where he finally parted with his Mazda last fall, selling it with 140,000 miles on the odometer.

It’s a good thing he sold his old ride because a head coach really ought to have shinier wheels than that.

Peterson, who turns 35 on Friday, is three weeks into his new job as head baseball coach of Benedictine College.

In a subplot to the rivalry between Lawrence and Free State, Peterson will compete for Heart of America Athletic Conference titles, as well as for recruits from LHS and FSHS, with Baker University coach and LHS graduate Ryan Goodwin, a self-described “NFL-caliber holder.”

“I love Lawrence kids,” Peterson said. “They’re tough. They get after it. They’re old-school grinders. They’ll get after it and play hard. And it’s only 35 minutes away.”

Aitchison is only 35 minutes from Lawrence? Peterson must have traded in that Mazda for a Batmobile. At any rate, it’s close enough that Peterson and his wife, Ashley, a pediatric nurse in Kansas City, are buying a home in Lawrence, the same hometown of three of the biggest baseball influences of his life.

Peterson played for Free State coach Mike Hill who, at the time, had Lawrence High coach Brad Stoll on his staff. And he worked as director of operations on Ritch Price’s staff.

“Skip opened my eyes to the other side of coaching,” Peterson said of Price. “The guy’s a magician on the fundraising side, getting things for players, like the trip to the Dominican that was about so much more than just baseball. We took over 1,000 health kits to kids over there, brought baseball equipment to them, spent time in the sugar-cane villages. I could never repay Skip or thank him enough for the nine months I spent with him.”

Peterson said he regularly is in touch with Price, Hill and Stoll.

While serving as recruiting coordinator at Pitt State, Peterson managed to earn a masters in game-day management from the school, which qualifies him to teach, as well. It’s the baseball that called him home, though.

He’s so fired up to be back in Lawrence, a great baseball town.

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