For the fifth year in a row, the Lansing community will hold the annual Jake Walkup Tribute Baseball Game this Sunday at 7 p.m. at Lansing High School. The evening is in honor of the late Lansing youth, who passed away from injuries sustained in a car accident half a decade ago. Michael Smith, the event’s coordinator and Walkup’s former baseball coach, took some time to talk more about the tribute.
To begin with, what kind of young man was Jake?
Jake was such a quiet kid. When he came to our first practice, he said his coach last year told him he should play third base. So, I put him there and he did so well I was like, “Hey, your coach was right,” and he just smiled.
The one thing I really remember about him was that he was always upbeat. Always smiling, always let’s go, let’s play two, let’s win. He was very determined.
What was the reasoning behind holding a yearly tribute baseball game in Jake’s honor?
It was a combination of things really. Right before Jake passed, I was managing the Lansing Cubs and we played the older Lansing Reds in a Paola tournament. It went right down to the wire and Jake flew out to right field. He was always his worst critic and he got mad, threw his helmet and got ejected from the game.
I went over to talk to him after the game and said “Come on, you are better than that.” The next day, we were warming up to play a different team and I went over to him to see how he was doing. He gave me a big hug and said thanks coach for yesterday. That was the last time I saw him before the accident.
Two weeks after he passed, the Cubs were playing the Reds again and I got together with Dirk Hutchinson, the Reds’ coach, and said I would like to do something special. Everyone knew Jake and we all decided to play a tribute game between the two teams to help raise money for the family.
It was a great turnout and the local American Legion helped get the word out. I talked to his mom and told her I would like to do this, with her blessing, as a regular event every year. This is now our fifth year and it’s kind of grown ever since.
This year the Lansing Sonic is a sponsor. We got better raffle prizes to give out and the kids as a team are selling tickets. All the money goes to Jake’s scholarship fund and in away keeps his memory alive.
Speaking of that scholarship fund, can you talk more about where that money goes?
Whatever is raised at the tribute game and throughout the year goes into a central fund. Then, every year they give out three scholarships: one for baseball, one for football and one for band. Those were the three things that Jake enjoyed most in school.
On Sunday, what can we expect to see out at the field?
For the kids, all the little Sonic mascots will be out there. For the adults coming to see the game, they will see the last 25-30 years of Lansing baseball come together for a great event.
We usually try to include a lot of the current Reds that can play with the alum. That way, 5-10 years from now, they will still want to play and participate in keeping Jake’s memory alive. For me, I plan on being a part of this until the day I die.
Lastly, how does it feel to see the community come together like this for one of its?
It makes me proud. I’m very proud of Lansing and especially Lansing baseball. When I moved here in 1996, baseball almost seemed like an after-thought. But now, over the years with the support of the community, coaches and parents, I think a pride is instilled in these boys that Lansing has great talent.
Overall, it’s a fun game that brings the community together for a great cause to honor a great kid.
Contributions can be sent to the Jake Walkup Memorial Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 489, Leavenworth, KS 66048. For more information on Sunday’s event, contact Smith at OsFanMike@aol.com or 913-683-9840.