By Doug Weller
Special to The Leaven
LEAWOOD — A lot of boys who start out playing sandlot baseball dream of making it to the big leagues.
Mike Macfarlane is one of the few who actually did.
But along the way, he said, he learned that there was a lot more to life than the sport he loved.
“With baseball, you’re dealing with a game of failure,” he said. “So you learn there are priorities in life, and you understand where to put those priorities.”
Since retiring as a major league catcher — with most of his career playing for the Kansas City Royals — Macfarlane and former Royals teammate Kevin Seitzer have been passing along their knowledge to the next generations of athletes.
At Mac-N-Seitz Baseball and Softball in south Kansas City, Missouri, they teach the fundamentals of the sport, laced with a hefty dose of life skills.
“Kevin and I were roommates on the road, and we talked a long time about what we would do after retiring,” said Macfarlane.
“We wanted to make a good impact on kids,” he continued. “Whether they’d become a professional player or go from a good athlete to a good ballplayer, we just wanted to help kids get better.”
His Catholic faith has been at the center of that philosophy.
“Our kids learned that no matter what games we had, we always found time for Mass. That’s a good thing about being Catholic — there’s a time everywhere,” he said, grinning.
He and his wife Kathy raised four children; the youngest is now a freshman in college. The couple belongs to St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Leawood.
“You turn them loose and hope you did a good job,” he said of their children. “We believe we have [done a good job] with faith-based raising of children.
“That’s how I was raised, that’s how our kids were raised, and that’s how they’ll raise theirs.”
All four children, naturally, were active in sports, and Macfarlane served as their coach and mentor, just as his father, a football and baseball coach, served as his.
“Kids today are pulled in so many other directions,” citing all of the technology that wasn’t around when he was growing up. “You have to get them active. It breaks up that sedentary lifestyle. I’m a big believer in sports because kids need to be active. And time for that is being taken away in school.”
He thinks back to his childhood in northern California.
“Growing up, my buddies and I would pack a baloney sandwich and head to the local field for the day,” he said. “We didn’t have phones or video games or the distractions with computers and technology.
“Or we’d tape a square on the wooden garage door and throw the ball at it all day long, pretending we were Catfish Hunter. We were creative and invented our own games, playing on cruddy fields.”
If a kid today has a good chance of making it to the big leagues, then Macfarlane is there to help. But more often than not, it’s helping a young girl or boy just get better.
“We’ve had a first-round draft pick, players in the major leagues. But that still doesn’t compare to the young player who struggled, was barely playing in games, who now is in the heart of the order and being one of the better players,” he said.
The lessons taught extend to parents as well, he noted.
“With every baseball and softball team, it still boils down to how the parents conduct themselves. We emphasize there are no major league scouts at the 12-and-under games,” he said. “Kids need to learn how to fail in order to succeed, and that you have to work at it.
“I really drive that work ethic.”
While Macfarlane is involved in their business venture year-round, Seitzer is there only in the off-season. As the hitting coach for the Atlanta Braves, Seitzer is gone for about half the year.
“Kevin comes in after the season is over and then is here daily. He loves the kids,” said Macfarlane. “Anytime you see a kid smile, it lights you up.
“To get those smiles — that’s the most rewarding thing you can get. It recharges you.”
Seitzer, 55, who also lives in Leawood, retired from major league baseball in 1997 after playing first and third base for the Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians. Macfarlane, 53, retired in 1999 after catching for the Royals, Boston Red Sox and the A’s.
Their Mac-N-Seitz facility at 135th and Holmes Road has the only indoor, full-size infield in the metro area, Macfarlane said, so it’s not unusual that college players, and even a few Royals, come there from time to time to practice.
“You can really stretch your arm out and field 90-foot ground balls,” he said.
Winter is the busiest, as their players train for the spring seasons in school. During the summer, Mac-N-Seitz sponsors its own roster of baseball and softball teams.
“We shut down the kids from late summer into fall. They need a rest. You only have one arm,” he said. “From December to June, we do a lot of work.”
But it’s more than the ballplaying fundamentals that has impressed Kate Dotterer, who lives near Paola. She and her husband have two sons who train at Mac-N-Seitz and play on its teams.
“He teaches a lot of life lessons and building their confidence,” said Dotterer, whose family belongs to Queen of the Holy Rosary in Wea. “I think it’s truly his calling. The kids respond well to him.”
And what better, she added, than to have a former professional player as your coach?
“It’s the ultimate for every little boy dreaming of playing baseball,” she said. “Here’s a guy who made it.”
Macfarlane said he and Seitzer simply love what they do.
“We loved the sport. It had been good to us,” he said. “We wanted to share with kids and reinforce what playing the game is all about to parents — let kids be kids, but provide firm direction and understand the fundamentals.
“We wanted to make it that. For any kid — boy or girl — who wants to learn the game, this is the place they should come.”