Kevin Bair is vice president and chief financial officer of Commercial Bank in Grayson, Ky., but the 46-year-old business executive is probably better known around town for what he did as a 16-year-old high school baseball player.
It was 30 years ago this weekend that Bair belted a walk-off two-run homer that gave East Carter a 10-9 victory over Harrison County in the state championship game at Johnson Central.
"In my job here, it's a good way to break the ice with people," Bair said. "We'll reminisce a little bit about that home run."
The shine from that Friday afternoon three decades ago has lost none of its lustre. In fact, East Carter's state title looks even more remarkable and improbable in hindsight. The Raiders had never won anything of consequence before then in the school's 11-year history. They were district runners-up in baseball in 1984, so there was no hint of what was to come.
But they beat the odds and swept through the region and sectional before upsetting traditional power Elizabethtown in the state semifinals. East Carter then overtook Harrison County in the finals with a stunning comeback. It trailed Harrison County 6-0 in the fifth inning, 8-4 in the sixth, and 9-6 going into the bottom of the seventh. It found a way to win, though, with Bair delivering the crowning blow with a sweet left-handed swing on a two-out, two-strike pitch.
J.P. Kouns, East Carter's coach at the time, said he didn't realize until later that "it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, because at a small school like East Carter, it just doesn't happen very often."
Bair was one of the few underclassmen on the championship team, so he returned to school a few months later as the conquering hero. "When we won the state title, school was already out so a lot of the guys who graduated moved on. But I was extremely fortunate in that I got to come back for my senior year and enjoy our state championship again."
Bair is a dad now. His son Kyle, who played on East Carter's Sweet Sixteen basketball team in 2010, just graduated from Asbury and will go to UK to finish up his civil engineer degree. His daughter Marlee is a sophomore at East Carter.
Even as a banker and a father, Kevin Bair still cherishes his magic moment as a high school baseball hero. "I still get chills hearing people talk about it," he said. And his state championship ring? "I keep it in a lock box at the bank," he said. "Nothing's going to happen to that baby."
■ Maybe it was karma. Thirty years after East Carter won the state title on Kevin Bair's walk-off homer, Boyd County won the 16th Region title Wednesday night, beating Ashland Blazer 3-1 on Jake Cook's walk-off homer in the bottom of the eighth inning. The region was played on J.P. Kouns Field at East Carter. "To hit a ball like that to go to State, it's unbelievable," Cook told the Ashland Daily Independent.
■ Being ranked in the baseball's top 25 didn't translate into postseason success for most teams. Going into region action Thursday night, only seven ranked teams were still alive in the playoffs: No. 1 Tates Creek, No. 2 West Jessamine, No. 3 St. Xavier, No. 6 McCracken County, No. 8 Pleasure Ridge Park, No. 23 Madison Central and No. 24 South Warren.
■ Northern Kentucky has two region baseball champs, and both ended long title droughts. Conner beat Highlands to win the 9th Region for the first time since 1979. Covington Scott won the 10th Region, it first title since it won the 9th in 1988.
■ Eleven teams in softball's top 25 were still playing in region tournaments Thursday, or have already won region titles: No. 1 McCracken County, No. 2 Greenwood, No. 3 Madisonville, No. 5 Ballard, No. 6 Scott County, No. 8 Mercy, No. 12 Male, No. 14 Assumption, No. 15 Ashland Blazer, No. 18 Anderson County and No. 24 Notre Dame.
■ Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Ben Revere homered for the first time in his major league career this week. It came after 1,565 plate appearances. Revere hit five homers in the minors. Revere's speed has always been his calling card. At Lexington Catholic, he set a state record 28 career triples and he was dazzling on defense in center field. But he showed plenty of pop in his bat, too. He had 10 home runs his senior year. Revere led Lexington Catholic to the state title in his junior year, and was Mr. Baseball in 2007.
■ Fifteen years after he pitched Lexington Catholic to a state baseball title, Mark Michael just completed his first season as pitching coach at Southeastern Community College in Iowa. The Blackhawks made it to the national junior college Division II World Series for the first time in 20 years, thanks in part to a pitching staff that led their league in ERA and led the nation in strikeouts. Southeastern Iowa also won a school-record 45 games, and were No. 4 in the nation at the end of the regular season. Last year Michael was the pitching coach for 11th Region champ Tates Creek.
■ Three Bryan Station baseball players will continue their careers in college: Austyn Goodwin at Shawnee State (Portmouth, Ohio); Chance Rogers and Alex Smallwood at Hanover (Ind).
■ It was a busy Memorial Day for the Bethel family. Kara Bethel, a sophomore shortstop on Lafayette's softball team, played Monday morning in the 11th Region tournament at Bryan Station. Curtis Bethel, a senior second baseman on Tates Creek's baseball team, played Monday afternoon in the 11th Region tournament at Western Hills. Their mom, Kathy, was able to make both games. The players had conflicting schedules Tuesday night, so Kathy opted to watch Curtis play since he's a senior. Both players are honor students. Curtis will graduate from Tates Creek's International Baccalaureate program. Kara has been in Lafayette's SCAPA program since she was in sixth grade.
■ David Joiner was an accomplished athlete and coach at Christian County. As a basketball star he led the Colonels to the 1983 Sweet Sixteen and made the all-tournament team. He also led Christian County's baseball team to a region title that year. (Joiner went on to play baseball and basketball at Vanderbilt.) Joiner also coached Christian County to the state baseball final four in 1996 and '98. A few years later he switched to softball and guided the Lady Colonels to three consecutive state tournaments (2009-11). All of that is nice, but it doesn't match Joiner's excitement in watching his daughter Griffin play for Kentucky's softball team that is headed to NCAA World Series in Oklahoma City. Griffin Joiner is a standout junior catcher for the Cats. "It's every kid's dream to be in a college world series, and very few get to see it come true, but for Griffin it's a reality," David Joiner said. David and his wife Suzanne were in Los Angeles last week to watch Griffin help UK beat UCLA. David said he sat on his hands and tried to stay calm, "but my wife was going crazy." They're in Oklahoma City to watch their daughter try to win a national title.
■ Montgomery County has named Matt Daniel its new boys' basketball coach. Daniel, who played at Rowan County and University of the Cumberlands, has been an assistant at Montgomery County the past two years. He succeeds Jason Holland, and will be the Indians' fifth coach in the last five years. Montgomery County assistant superintendent Phil Rison said Daniel, 26, "was a solid choice from the standpoint he has already developed relationships with the players. He knows our kids and knows our team." Matt is the son of former Rowan County coach Don Daniel, who led the Vikings to the 2005 Sweet Sixteen.
■ The Kentucky-Indiana all-star basketball games will be at Transylvania's Beck Center on June 13. The girls' game is at 5:30 p.m., followed by the boys. The star attraction figures to be UK signee Trey Lyles, Indiana's Mr. Basketball, who will be playing just up the street from his future home of Rupp Arena. Tickets ($20 or $30) can be purchased online at www.kyallstars.net.
■ Warren East has hired Brandon Combs as its boys' basketball coach. He was an assistant at Bowling Green the past few years, and was head coach at Cumberland County and Menifee County.
■ Chase Minnifield, a defensive back with the Washington Redskins, is putting on a free football clinic next month at Henry Clay, his alma mater. For details go to www.chaseminnifieldfootballcamp.com.