R.J. Krause was a big, simple man of many words

Richard "R.J." Krause talked about the R.J. Krause All-Stars Sports Club of East St. Louis before several of its members recited their pledge during the East St. Louis Sequicentennial celebration in July 2011.
Richard "R.J." Krause talked about the R.J. Krause All-Stars Sports Club of East St. Louis before several of its members recited their pledge during the East St. Louis Sequicentennial celebration in July 2011. News-Democrat

I looked forward to his phone call every few months.

Coach Richard “R.J.” Krause would call me with an update about recent activities of his R.J. Krause All Stars Sports Club.

“Terry. This is Coach R.J. Krause. I want to talk to you about a few things. …”

Our talks never lasted less than an hour.

Of course, I listened more than I talked.

The All Stars sang at a local nursing home. Played a dozen basketball games the past week. Attended a play at Althoff Catholic High School. Went to a Gateway Grizzlies game. R.J. took pride in his busy schedule.

We always ended up talking about our past. Men, women, children, moments and memories that touched our lives at the old St. Philip’s Grade School in East St. Louis.

R.J. was a big, simple man of many words and a great gift of recall. He loved matching his memory versus mine. He won. Usually, I forfeited.

Every kid he ever coached has a favorite R.J. story and memory.

R.J. coached me in grade school softball and basketball. Forty-plus years later, he remembered details of specific games. He could recite my batting average, home runs and runs batted in for a specific game, or season. He had the old scorebooks to back it up.

He liked to talk about kids he once coached who had grown up to become successful adults. I liked to ask him where I might fit in that group. “I’m not sure exactly,” he’d say. “Closer to first than last.” Followed by that signature R.J. laugh.

Everyone was equal in R.J.’s world. His life was full of color, especially Cardinal red, Mizzou black and gold, and East Side High’s orange and blue.

But he saw nothing — and no one — in black and white.

R.J. died April 28 at age 64. He was truly one of a kind. There will never be another man like R.J Krause.

Our friendship began in the 1960s. R.J’s family lived a few blocks away on North 71st Street in East St. Louis. We lived on Terrace Drive, near 68th Street. R.J. and his brother Russell often came by our house to trade baseball cards. He had a soft spot for Cardinals.

In recent years, I got some of those old baseball cards back. When he moved from his home in East St. Louis to Fairview Heights, often R.J. loaded up boxes of belongings and gave them to me. Old sports books. Cards. Scorecards. Autographed photos. I’m not sure he threw anything away. Amazing what he held on to.

Over the years, I wrote a few articles and columns about R.J. He returned the favor in his column in the East St Louis Monitor. Once he wanted to name the new bridge after me. (I think he was kidding.) He also wrote about an extra-inning softball game in August 1971 when I was in fifth grade against St Joseph Grade School. Greatest grade school softball game ever, he said. He showed me the scorebook.

Columnists often struggle to write leads. Something grabbing, catchy. R.J had it figured out. Every one of his columns led with one word, “Congratulations!”

A few years ago, I greeted him in the end zone of a high school football game. From his wheelchair, he instructed the kids to sing, in duet, “Terry” by the boys and “Mackin” by the girls. It was quite a scene.

Impromptu, he came by my home. The All Stars got out of the van and sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from the street to my home.

In 2012, R.J. called me about the 30th anniversary of a magazine article I wrote about him in August 1982. He reminded me some of the kids in that feature had died over the past few decades. At the time, having their photo in the newspaper was a thrill, he said.

“We’re lucky, you know,” R.J. told me on the phone. “We’re old but we’re still here. I’m still coaching. You’re still writing.”

Lucky is right, I agreed.

As I wrote this last column about R.J. Krause, I thought about the kids he had coached over the past 45-plus years, including myself.

Where he took them.

What lessons he taught them.

His old station wagon with the hole in the floor, and the frogs we let loose in his car without him knowing.

Softball games on summer Saturday mornings at Jones Park.

I thought about the East St Louis kid who got picked up at his home, in a bad neighborhood, piled into the safety and security of R.J.’s van, and was treated to a Cardinals game or Mizzou football game. The kid who felt like an all-star only because of R.J. Krause.