Archive for Thursday, July 17, 2008

Kite’s Bar and Grill keeps area legend alive

July 17, 2008

Former Wyandotte High School product and Kansas State basketball and baseball standout Keith "Kite" Thomas was the owner of the famous Kite's Bar and Grill in Aggieville.

His name has been resurrected by the present owners, Terry and Jan Ray, owners of a sports bar of the same name on 75th Street in Johnson County.

In addition to being a successful athlete at Kansas State, Kite made his presence known in major league baseball, which he retired from in 1954.

Kite had playing time with the Philadelphia A's, New York Yankees and Washington Senators. Kite could well have been on the A's roster when they moved to Kansas City.

Kite's Bar and Grill was well-attended for 15 years or more following Wildcat football and basketball games. Not many local athletes can lay claim to the achievement of Kite Thomas in college sports and major league baseball. I can remember Kite well because I played fastpitch softball with and against him. I can assure you it was more enjoyable playing with him. I remember in baseball and basketball, Kite was a die-hard competitor. To really know Kite, you would have to have been around him in sports.

When I started this column, I had heard that there was a Kite's Bar and Grill in Johnson County, and one day after a doctor's appointment I had my daughter, Linda, take me by Kites to see if indeed it was the former Aggieville sports bar. There was little doubt in my mind as soon as I opened the door at Kites and saw all the purple and a four-foot poster mounted on the wall of Bill Snyder, the highly successful football coach of Kansas State.

Terry and Jan Ray have resurrected the name Kite Thomas by opening the very fine sports bar and grill on 75th Street in Johnson County. Anyone who has attended Kansas State University has at one time or another probably visited Kite's sports bar. The first thing I did when I heard my grandson was enrolling at K-State was to have him visit the sports bar in Aggieville to see if indeed it was the same Kite Thomas I had told him about.

One of my more memorable games of any sporting event was in the early 1940s when I coached a men's fastpitch softball team for the U.S. Navy. We were entered in a district tournament in Topeka, which we won. The winner had the option of adding one player to its state roster that had participated in the district tournament, and, not being a complete dummy, I latched on to a player I'd known in Kansas City, Kite Thomas. We were in the semifinals of the state tournament and the score was tied after nine innings. We were at bat in the bottom of the ninth and had a runner on third. Who comes up to the plate? No other than Kite, who had already hit several home runs and was known as a power hitter. I was coaching third base with Kite at the plate and I was hoping he would launch a long one or at least a single and score the run. Kite, who was not known for his speed, laid down a perfect bunt to surprise the defense and they didn't even make a play on the bunt. We made a score on the winning run. After the game, I asked Kite what was he thinking bunting with two outs and tied? He said, "Mr. Finley, the outfielders were backed up to the fence and the third basemen was playing short left field and I figured all I had to do was put the bat on the ball, and it worked."

Following the game, the manager of the losing team came over and told me, "Coach, your strategy really paid off and surprised me very much." I said, "Surprised you? Well it surprised the heck out of me."

Kite always has been a heads-up player and he saw every opportunity to win a game without hitting a home run.

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