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Royal conversion

Toby Cook, Kansas City Royals vice president of community affairs and publicity, and his wife Barbara sit in Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Toby credits his job with the Royals for being a catalyst for his conversion to the Catholic faith. LEAVEN PHOTO BY LORI WOOD HABIGER

by Todd Habiger

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Royals might seem like a strange vehicle of conversion to Catholicism, but for Toby Cook, that’s how it all began.

A little over a decade ago, Cook had carved himself out a nice niche as a local TV personality. He was the co-anchor for WDAF-TV FOX 4 Kansas City’s morning show and was happy in that role.

But one day, in 2006, after emceeing a Royals Charities gala, Royals president Dan Glass approached Cook about working for the Royals. Cook was floored.

“To have this once-in-a-lifetime, fall-from-the-sky, favorite-baseball- team job opportunity — it was too good to pass up,” Cook said.

It was a life-changing decision. He not only ended up changing careers — but religions as well.

Raised Royal

Cook grew up listening to Royals games on the radio every night in his hometown of Independence, in southeast Kansas, and taking in the occasional game at Royals Stadium.

“My dad took me to my first Royals game in 1976,” Cook said. “We played the Oakland A’s. Reggie Jackson hit a three-run home run for them. Big John Mayberry hit a home run for us. I just was hooked from the very beginning.”

Cook’s broadcast career began when he was 16 and worked at a small radio station in Independence, where he would man the station while it broadcast Royals games.

“I kind of dreamed that one day I was going to be a play-by-play announcer for the Royals,” Cook said. “The Royals were easily one of the top things in my life.”

Of course, when Cook was growing up, the Royals were one of the premier teams in baseball. They made the playoffs six times between 1976 and 1985 — winning it all in 1985.

In 2006, however, the Royals were in disarray. They had fired general manager Allard Baird and replaced him with newcomer Dayton Moore. A few months later, Cook had that fateful meeting with Dan Glass — and joined the Royals as vice president of publicity.

Lutheran beginnings

Cook was raised in the Lutheran faith. His father was an elder. His brother is a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor.

“Church was an important part of my upbringing,” Cook said. “Church was about five blocks from where I grew up. When it was nice, we walked. We went every Sunday.”

After graduating from Pittsburg State University, Cook started investigating whether he was being called to pastoral ministry.

He eventually married his wife Barbara, and settled into a life as the host of a morning show in Pittsburg and later as a TV reporter and anchor.

“But it kept knocking at me that I wanted something more spiritual and a little more defined and intentional,” he said.

“During that time, he was very unsettled in his faith,” Barbara said.

Nevertheless, Cook continued to be active in the Lutheran faith. When he and Barbara moved to Virginia for a TV job, Cook led a small congregation of Missouri Synod Lutheran as an unordained pastor.

“I was blessed over the phone by the district president — who would be their equivalent of the bishop — to be the worship leader at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Lynchburg, Virginia,” he said. “And I loved it.”

When the Cooks moved back to Kansas, Toby went through a diaconate program to become a lay minister.

“Once I graduated from that, I spent the next 18 months at Missouri Synod Lutheran churches in the area, leading the worship services for churches that didn’t have pastors,” Cook said.

Then the Royals came calling.

St. Mike the Evangelist

Shortly after Cook took the Royals job, Royals first baseman Mike Sweeney asked the bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to celebrate Mass at Kauffman Stadium.

“Sweeney invited everybody to come — Catholics, non-Catholics, nonbelievers — he invited everyone to come to this Mass,” Cook said. “I did out of respect for Mike. It was great. I loved it.”

That Mass planted the seed of Catholicism within Cook and it slowly began to grow. By 2007, that seed was in full bloom.

“I had always been fascinated by the Catholic Church,” Cook said. “But I had this haughty, judgmental thought about them.

“I used to say, ‘I find the Catholic Church the most fascinating and infuriating body of believers.’”

But eventually, the fascination won out.

Cook had watched Marcus Grodi’s EWTN show, “The Journey Home,” for years, in which individuals recounted their faith journey to the Catholic Church.

Then he started reading people’s conversion stories.

Finally, he read Steven Ray’s “Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historic Church” and felt he had to go to Mass.

“It was awesome,” Cook said.

That Monday, he called Church of the Ascension in Overland Park and met with a priest.

“I told him, ‘I think I’m being called to investigate whether I’m supposed to become Catholic.” And he said, ‘What a holy quest.’”

Fortunately for Cook, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program was starting in two weeks.

He was going to join the church. And he wouldn’t be going alone.

Partners in faith

Barbara encouraged Toby to join the Catholic Church — but she wasn’t quite ready to make the move herself.

“I said, ‘Yes. Do it. Go.’ But I wasn’t there yet,” she said.

Barbara was baptized into the Christian Church of the Disciples of Christ. In college, she joined the Baptist Church. When she married Toby, she joined the Lutheran Church.

Unlike Toby, Barbara was content with the Lutheran faith.

But, eventually, Toby’s enthusiasm piqued her curiosity.

“He would come home from work and tell me about some of the things he had read during the day, or things he heard on the radio, to and from work,” she said.

“He was incredibly excited about it,” she added.

Barbara did not delay long.

She joined the RCIA a week after Toby did. Looking back, she knows it was the right decision.

Now, more than 10 years later, Toby says he has found what he spent years searching for.

“When I came into the Church, I realized that I was called to be a Catholic husband and father — period,” Cook said. “And that was the vocation.

“It was humbling, but it felt right.”

Barbara agreed.

“I remember looking at him one day,” she said. “I just looked at him and said, ‘We’re home. We’re home.’

“That was the best feeling in the world.”

About the author

Todd Habiger

Todd has been the production manager for The Leaven since 1995. Under his direction The Leaven has won multiple design awards from the Catholic Press Association. Prior to working at The Leaven, Todd was an award-winning writer for The Catholic Key newspaper in Kansas City, Mo. Todd is married to Lori Wood Habiger, a former Leaven employee herself. They have two children — Paige and Connor, and one dog — Joli.

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  • I am happy for Toby and his family. I am a Lutheran and Toby has preached at my church before his conversion. I was suprised to read he felt unsettled in his faith at that time- it did not show in his preaching.

  • Our son, Ed Jarmer, was a broadcast team member with Toby Cook in Pittsburgh, Kansas and also in Lynchburg VA. We met, and became friends with Toby and Barbara Cook though our son and his family. Wonderful people! I was elated when I heard that they had converted to the Catholic faith. Toby and Barbara are the Godparents of our youngest granddaughter, Sophia. We are anxious to see them again in a few weeks at our oldest granddaughter, Sarah’s, wedding in Grand Island, NE.

    Thank you for writing this beautiful article about a beautiful family.


    Wayne and Rogene Jarmer
    Cunningham, Ks.