John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs I've never met Chris Kuxhaus face to face, but after talking with him on the phone for a few minutes last week, I can sense that he's one of those guys who truly loves the game.
His passion for baseball isn't fueled by the pursuit of competition or the thrill of victory. He understands that the game is about a lot more than just the final score.
You can bet he's one of those guys who loves the smell of a leather baseball glove, the way the dust kicks up as a base runner rounds second base and the sound of a ball hitting a bat.
Kuxhaus grew up playing the game of baseball, and if not for a skull injury in high school, he might still be out on the field playing.
He told me he started playing in kindergarten. He was part of a Little League team in grade school, and he caught for his high school baseball team before getting cracked in the head by a bat. The injury ended his baseball career long before Kuxhaus was ready to stop playing, but it hasn't dampened his love of the game.
These days, he works construction but is drawn back to the diamond each summer, where he uses all the skills he learned as a child to coach a softball team made up of players with special needs.
That team - the Steamboat Pirates- recently traveled to Longmont to play in the Special Olympics Western Area tournament. The Pirates didn't win- losing the first and second games by one run each - but that didn't matter. Not to the tournament organizers, not to the fans who support the teams and not to the players who represented Steamboat Springs on the field. The players are living proof that the game reaches well past the scoreboard.
The Steamboat team was rewarded with second-place medals for its showing at the tournament, and all the players and people who put the event on deserve special thanks.
But the coach's reward came as he watched his players step onto the field and step away from their own limitations for a few hours. These athletes played the game the way it was meant to be played - with love - and Kuxhaus can appreciate that.
"I enjoy every minute of it," Kuxhaus said about coaching the team. "I wish summer was longer and that we got to play more games. I can't play the game anymore, but this is the next best thing."
The coach isn't the only one wishing the summer was a little longer in the Yampa Valley. Apparently, Kuxhaus has passed his love of the game onto his players. Many of those players have been heartbroken since the season came to an end.
Kuxhaus can relate to how his players are feeling these days. He's one of those guys who truly loves the game.