School, Team Still Tight After Quarter Century
Lytle A Legacy Turk
By Nick Sunderland
Daily News Record
HARRISONBURG – Baseball has taken longtime Oklahoma City University assistant Keith Lytle all across the country.
The 53-year-old – whose coaching resume includes independent-league gigs in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Minnesota along with a pair of Triple-A stops with the Texas Rangers organization – certainly hasn’t forgotten his humble beginnings along the way.
As it turned out, the launch pad for Lytle’s career would come in the form of a three-year stint as manager of the Harrisonburg Turks.
Serving as the first skipper in owner and now-manager Bob Wease’s 25-year tenure with the team, Lytle helped guide the Turks to the Valley Baseball League championship in 1991 while managing a group that featured 17 players who were eventually selected in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft.
Looking back, Lytle who came to Harrisonburg as a New Mexico State assistant – says joining the Turks was the best decision he ever made because “it opened so many doors for me.”
And now Lytle’s life is coming full circle as his son, Joe, finds himself in the midst of his first season with Harrisonburg.
Through 10 games this summer, Joe Lytle – a catcher and rising sophomore at OCU – is off to a modest start, hitting .256 with seven RBIs through Tuesday.
“I listen to the games on the radio and I sit there and I reflect back on my time in Harrisonburg and know what he’s getting to experience now,” Keith Lytle said in a phone interview this week. “And especially as young as Joe is – he’s only a freshman this year – it’s really humbling to know that something that I did years ago, even though it was under a different title, he’s now experiencing too. And I know that the memories he has from there and brings back, he’ll be reflecting on ’em when he’s 53.
Though Lytle gave up his post at Harrisonburg to pursue bigger opportunities following the 1991 summer season, he and Wease remain friends, and dozens of Oklahoma City players have gone on to play for the Turks because of that connection.
“I trust him,” Wease said. “If he calls me and tells me he has a good pitcher, I’ll automatically take the player because I trust Keith. I trust him completely.”
This summer has proven to be particularly special for the 28th-year OCU assistant. Joe Lytle is even wearing the No. 22 – Keith’s old jersey number as Harrisonburg’s manager – to honor his dad.
Growing up, as Keith served as the Triple-A hitting coach with the Oklahoma City Redhawks for four seasons ending in 2010, Joe got the chance to shag fly balls with future MLB slugger Nelson Cruz and hang around then – Rangers stars Josh Hamilton and Ian Kinsler as they came through the club for rehab assignments.
However, Joe Lytle said his favorite player to interact with during that time was a little-known outfielder named Jason Botts, who went on to play four seasons with the Rangers.
“He told me that he hopes he plays this game long enough to play against me someday,” Lytle said of Botts.
Lytle is on the right path, having hit a team-best .381 with 27 doubles for the NAIA powerhouse Stars this past season.
Before he’d ever played a competitive baseball game, Lytle said he told his father at age 4 that his dream was to one day play for him at the college level. And when it came time to fill out recruiting questionaires and take visits, Lytle stuck to his word by forgoing that process to simply enroll at OCU.
Now he’s following in the footsteps of his father, who continues to reflect on his time with the Turks with pride. In fact, Keith Lytle still considers one member of that 1991 title team – eventual Philadelphia Phillies utility player Jon Zuber – to be the most well-rounded player he’s ever coached.
And Lytle’s relationship with Wease? That, Lytle said is a “lifelong friendship.”
“Bob is more than just the owner and manager of a ballclub in Harrisonburg, Virginia,” Lytle said. “Bob – and (his wife_ Teresa, I might add – their outpouring of love and commitment to not only the game of baseball but the kids that wear that uniform in Harrisonburg and represent the Turks is a lifelong commitment for them. I’ve never met people that are more genuinely concerned and thankful to be involved inthese young kids’ lives.”