A Conversation With Jana Howser
Jana Howser got in touch with i70baseball.com recently after seeing our profile of her father Dick Howser. She was kind of enough to do an interview with us and, as you will read, put generous thought and care into her responses.
Give us a brief biographical sketch of your life so far—schools, jobs, important events, etc.?
Our family on our mother, Michelle’s, side has been in Kansas City since the turn of the last century. Dad
came to the KC Athletics as a rookie in 1961 and became the Topps Rookie of the Year in the American League. Dad was introduced by mutual friends to Mom. They dated, married, and had twins Jana (me) and Jill.
Our mother and father divorced and both remarried several years later. Our relationships with both Mom and Dad were excellent. We moved to California with our mother upon her second marriage. Dad married Nancy Howser.
High schools: Beverly Hills High School, CA, & San Dieguito High School, Encinitas, CA, graduated 1983
High school athletics: Four-Year Letter Winner: Volleyball, Springboard Diving
College: University of Missouri, Kansas City, B.A. English and Secondary Education, graduated 1989
College athletics: Letter Winner: Volleyball
Taught high school English and coached varsity volleyball and swimming for a few years after college before moving into the private business sector.
Professional capacities include business management in education and publishing companies and Board of Directors participation for the College Baseball Foundation and other charities prior to moving into current role.
Married to Henry Sack and live in Dallas, Texas. No children but two beautiful nieces.
What does the College Baseball Foundation do, and what is your role in the Foundation?
The College Baseball Foundation (CBF), an education 501(c)(3), was established in 2004 to honor, display, and educate about the history of college baseball. 2009 officially marked the 150th anniversary of the collegiate game. The CBF is the founder of the National College Baseball Hall of Fame and College Baseball Awards Show, to award the top national collegiate baseball achievements annually, and the College World Series Preview Show. Major League Baseball Advanced Media is the production partner for these shows. The CBF also hosts national youth baseball tournaments in Lubbock, TX, that coincide with the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and the College Baseball Awards Show each June.
My role is Executive Vice President of Development. We are in the midst of a capital campaign to build the 35,000 sq. ft. National College Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame. The building is to be constructed in Lubbock and will feature historical artifacts and will feature interactive and educational areas. A regulation youth-size baseball field will also be on the complex to host youth games at many levels, including youth tournament championships.
The city of Lubbock challenged the CBF with certain financial goals. When the goal was exceeded, the city of Lubbock gifted the CBF a 5-acre piece of property in a prime location for this purpose. We are approximately halfway to goal with continual advancement.
Did you spend a lot of time at the ballpark with your dad growing up?
Yes, as much as possible. Prying us away from the ballpark was the real issue. I cannot recall ever not wanting to go to the ballpark. Not only was it fun to be there, so was spending time with the people who worked with Dad.
What are your fondest memories of your father, both in and out of baseball?
Because of Dad’s nature and wit, he was always fun to be with. He valued and appreciated getting to know people, including virtually everyone he worked and played baseball with on his teams and other teams around the league. His friends from college at FSU were like family. Those were seamless relationships over all of Dad’s adult life. He was a considerate person who enjoyed the company of virtually everyone. And for those especially in his baseball life, he was always appreciative of their unique contributions to his teams.
As a leader, his style was to communicate and navigate intelligently, respectfully and fairly, including before a word was ever said.
In baseball, there’s one clear memory that stands out. The look on Dad’s face immediately after winning the 1985 World Series is as the Royals’ Manager is as clear now as it was that night. I saw in his expression everything he felt about the game of baseball. I also remember riding in the victory parade next to Dad through downtown Kansas City amid a sea of cheering fans. The convertible was filled up to our waists with ticker tape, almost immediately.
Jill and I adored how funny Dad was. As kids, we knew that he simply enjoyed doing whatever it was he was doing. His attitude was never guarded and always engaging. So much learned about how to live.
One of the happiest memories I have was Dad teaching us to throw, catch and hit baseballs “like boys” in preparation for Little League Baseball. Jill and I were nearly eight years old.
Days before, Dad had surprise us with new mitts, cleats and wristbands. First, he taught us how to break our gloves in and shape them with a baseball in the webbing. After wrapping the gloves with the ball inside, we left them alone for several days to take shape.
When we opened each of our gloves, we inspected a shape that welcomed a baseball. Jill and I put on our cleats and wrist guards and took our gloves. Dad then picked up three baseballs and outside we went.
First he had Jill and I throw to each other from about 20 feet. He moved us farther apart quickly—after just a couple of throws. Jill and I had been throwing baseballs back and forth for as long as we could remember. He was happy to see that we could throw and catch easily from this distance.
He asked us to come and stand in front of him, gave us each a ball in our throwing hands, and faced us about five feet away. I mirrored and Jill copied his slow motion of a throw. I was a lefty and Jill was a righty, like Dad. He held the ball on top of the seams with his fingertips and demonstrated the motion of his elbow and full arm. I especially remember how he flicked his wrist and his finger positions before releasing the ball. He was concentrating and smiling as he showed us.
We practiced the motions five or so times without throwing with him. He then backed up, said we were ready, and asked Jill to stand to my right. He threw to each of us for us to alternate catching and throwing back to him. We caught all of his throws and threw them back. As we threw and caught, we continued to back up further and further and throw harder and harder; first at about 30 feet and out to about 50 feet. He definitely threw hard to us, but never too hard for us to succeed. That was the beginning for Jill and me, of liking the sound of a ball hitting a glove. We still like it.
Over time, we did this countless more times and got more proficient. We also commenced hitting lessons and soon after, our Little League Baseball careers. Jill and I both were the only girls on our teams. We both played first base and both batted fourth thanks to the first coach in our lives, Dad.
The hitting lessons and Little League seasons are other stories. But I do remember a funny conversation between me, the twelve year-old girl, and Dad, in which I impressed upon him how much I hoped to be drafted by the Yankees after tryouts. Dad was a New York Yankee then. And in that last Little League season at age 12, I got drafted by the Red Sox.
You were 22 in 1987 when your father passed away. Where were you living and what were you doing at the time?
From 1983—1986, I was at college in California. When Dad was diagnosed with cancer right after the 1986 All-Star Game in Houston, I transferred to the University of Missouri at Kansas City, where I began classes that fall. By moving and changing schools, I was able to be with him and the rest of my family regularly during the progression of his illness over those next several months. I had no idea how important that decision would continue to become. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. After Dad passed away, I stayed at UMKC to complete my upper division coursework and graduated in 1989.
What do you think your dad’s legacy is?
In college baseball, he was a walk-on at Florida State University and became a first ever consensus All-America student-athlete from the state of Florida. FSU Baseball’s home is Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium, a spectacular baseball venue. Dad considered what he learned in his education and collegiate baseball to be some of the most important fundamental parts of his professional baseball success.
The Dick Howser Trophy, named after Dad, is the national collegiate baseball award for the top NCAA Division I player in the United States. The award moves into its 25th season in 2011 and is based on the cornerstones of courage, character, leadership and performance, both athletically and academically. In the first 24 years of the award, there are over 160 MLB seasons played by those 24 recipients. MLB rookie and 2010 World Series Champion Buster Posey and JD Drew of the Boston Red Sox, also a World Series Champion, both won Dad’s trophy and both played their college baseball at Howser Stadium.
In Major League Baseball, his legacy is his successful Major League Baseball career, from 1961-1987, a career that was halted only by his illness at age 51. His number 10 was the first retired number by the Kansas City Royals. He managed the Royals to their only World Series Championship in 1985, and years before was an All-Star Rookie and Rookie of the Year in 1961, befitting that he began and concluded his professional career in the same city.
To Jill and me, Dad is often regarded to us as someone who was friendly to everyone. He was positive and motivated in his own right while being inspired by many. He was generous in spirit and in his actions, and was willing to do what he could to help people. To him, achievement of others was as good to him as his own.
Those characteristics are how he lived his life. His playbook would look something like this:
Grow, learn and find what means most. Always continue to learn. Commit to your goals. Your knowledge will increase. Stay diligent and remain loyal to your convictions. Do the best you can. Have fun and enjoy. You will succeed. Any achievement should never be at the expense of others. Achieve goals through your own performance and by being a good teammate.
What are your sister and mother doing these days?
Our mother Michelle passed away when we were 16, in an accident. We have been extraordinarily fortunate to have the extended family we do.
My twin sister Jill is a wife to her husband James, mother of two daughters Melody, 20, and Michelle, 8, and is a reigning championship horsewoman, living in Arizona. She shows in english hunter events very successfully. We are exceptionally close and I am so proud of her and my nieces.
Nancy Howser was a second marriage for Dad. She lives in Missouri.
Do you keep up with the Royals? What are your thoughts on the team’s struggles since ’85 and outlook for the future?
Yes, both as a fan and with people involved directly with the team. Dad’s friends who were there in ’85 and are still with the team are Fred White, Denny Matthews, George Brett and Frank White. There are others I am in contact with too.
The Royals commissioned a spectacular bronze statue of Dad that is at Kauffman Stadium behind the fountains in right-center field. The Glass family gave Jill and me each a scaled version for our homes. They are beautiful. Last year the Royals invited me for first pitch honors. There was no decision to make. I threw from the rubber. Dad would have liked that! There are more occasions anticipated and as many games as possible. I am thrilled that the Royals will be hosting the 2012 MLB All-Star Game. Those will be outstanding days for the team and the whole city.
Yes, I am familiar with the Royals efforts to work towards better seasons. Zack Greinke receiving the Cy Young Award was very good for the team and was an outstanding personal accomplishment.
No team or fans would ever tire of winning championships. I trust that the Royals do everything they can to put together the strongest team possible. Teams train, learn, practice, learn, strategize, learn, and practice some more, all in efforts to succeed. Over the course of the 162-game regular season, hopefully most players will stay healthy.
How does a team create a result of individually strong performances by teammates so that they may occur collectively and at the best times? If doing so could be readily orchestrated, every Major League Baseball team would have pennants and World Series Championships at points along their history. Not all teams do.
The Royals are a team that does. I do think that more are ahead.
My outlook for the Royals is positive. In June, 2010, the Royals drafted significantly more collegiate baseball players than in any previous year. I support the decision and the direction.
Heartfelt thanks to Jana!