When you start a story by saying, “back in the old days…” – well, I guess it’s fair to say YOU might be getting a little old.
I’d like to tell you about Keith Van Eron.
And, to do that, I have to start off by saying, “back in the old days…”
When I first started with the Blast in 1981, I was a part-time go’fer-part-time PR guy. I didn’t care, of course. I was making $12k a year to run across the street for pizza for the front office gang, staple game-notes and press releases together and work in the radio booth with Art Sinclair and Charley Eckman. It was the best $12k I ever made, believe me.
In the summer of ’83, Kenny Cooper brought me into his office and said I was getting promoted and would be running the team’s Community Relations Department. He immediately laid down the ground rules for me:
1) Every player will do a minimum of one personal appearance per-week during the season, home/road schedule permitting. If we didn’t get enough requests for player appearances, I was to go “out-bound” and schedule them. Schools, malls, whatever…every player had to be out at least one night a week. At that stage, we were doing – as an organization – between 10-15 appearances per-week.
2) No one will be late to an appearance.
3) No one will miss an appearance.
4) No one will complain about doing appearances.
5) Anyone violating 1-2-3-4 of those rules was to be reported to Kenny Cooper.
Simple enough, right?
Back then, we were selling out virtually every night. In fact, at one point during the height of the team’s popularity, we sold out a league-record 56 games in a row (11,500 capacity).
One of the reasons for all of that was Keith Van Eron. In fact, he was a BIG reason why that all happened back in the early and mid 1980’s.
This Saturday night, KVE will be inducted into the Blast’s Hall of Fame. There are a lot of worthy names up on that banner on the stage end of the Arena, but no one – NO ONE – is more deserving of the honor than Van Eron.
Keith almost NEVER did one appearance per-week during the season.
He did two, sometimes three appearances each and every week – and those are the ones that I handed him…Lord knows how many he did on his own without my knowledge.
I remember once, I think it was the 1983-84 season, when Lou Nagy took a look at his appearance sheet for the week and tugged at my arm. “Come on, Drew…I’ve got TWO this week? I just did two a couple of weeks back.”
Van Eron looked down at the appearance sheet in his hand (EVERY appearance was listed – which was a good way for the players to self-police one another since they could see who was doing what each week) and said, “Which one don’t you want to do, Louie?” Nagy said, “Thursday night…it’s the night before we travel and I’d like to stay home with my wife.” Van Eron took out a pen, scratched Nagy’s name off and said, “Drewski, I’ll do that one for Louie on Thursday.” Keith already had two himself, by the way. Make that three for the week. But he didn’t care.
That was Keith Van Eron.
On the field, he was an excellent player who still sports his ’83-84 championship ring with great pride.
In fact, Van Eron was in goal for us the night the Blast beat St. Louis, 10-3, to capture the title in Baltimore.
Oddly enough, Keith played poorly in an earlier playoff round loss to the New York Arrows and Kenny decided to go with veteran Scott Manning against both New York and Cleveland…and when Manning won the pivotal games 3 and 4 in St. Louis to put us up 3-games-to-1 in the Championship Series, everyone in Baltimore assumed Manning would start Game 5 at the Civic Center.
But, something funny happened along the way. Van Eron had been taking some heat from the fans and the media for his poor play earlier in the playoffs and that famous “he can’t win the big one” line was being whispered about KVE around the league and in Baltimore.
A day prior to Game 5, Cooper went up to Manning and said, “How do you feel? Are you good to go tomorrow night?” Manning said, “Let Keith play, Kenny. He’s put in his time here and it would be a great way for us to win…at home…with him in goal.”
Everyone – including the St. Louis Steamers – knew we were going to win Game 5 and win the title. Stamenkovic was having a phenomenal series and we were just too good to be stopped. And Scott Manning displayed the ultimate touch of class by bowing out and letting Keith Van Eron get the nod in goal.
Keith was a champion on the field and off the field.
He sure made my job a lot easier.
Always on time, always there with a smile and always serving as a great role model for both the Blast and soccer in general. That was KVE.
So, the next time you go to a Blast game – hopefully this Saturday – you’re in that building watching indoor soccer in large part because of Keith Van Eron’s efforts 25 years ago.
If you DO go on Saturday night, make sure that standing ovation is lengthy.
I’ll be there, maybe up in the press box looking down on the whole thing and remembering a locker room full of great professionals and great role models.
I hear some of the “old gang” will be in the house Saturday night.
Maybe – for “old times sake” – I’ll draft up a personal appearance sheet and give “the boys” some soccer clinics next week.
I’m sure Keith Van Eron will do more than anyone else if I do pass that sheet around.
He always did.