Tag Archives: Creighton

From Profane to Sacred

October 16, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Twenty-five years ago hordes of television cameras and newspaper reporters descended on Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to cover the trial of a 31-year-old serial killer whose depths of depravity defied comprehension. Details of the murders—17 in all, but he confessed to 15—proved so grisly, so grotesque, that many media outlets showed restraint in their coverage for fear of alienating a large portion of their viewers or readers.

Even today, with all the atrocities plaguing the world, the name Jeffrey Dahmer can still send shivers down spines. The terms paraphilia, necrophilia, mutilation, and cannibalism all apply—terms that baffle and horrify most lay people.

The trail of carnage left by the chocolate factory worker and Army veteran during a 13-year period finally ended in July 1991 when police, alerted by an intended victim who escaped, walked into Dahmer’s apartment. Blood, body parts, a stench, and Polaroid pictures stopped them in their tracks.

“We really didn’t know what we were dealing with early on,” says the Rev. Gregory O’Meara, S.J., who as an attorney played a key role in shaping the prosecution’s case against the so-called “Milwaukee Cannibal.” He also assisted Milwaukee County District Attorney Michael McCann during the trial.

Before becoming a Jesuit priest, a vocation that brought him to Creighton University in 2013, O’Meara spent almost seven years as an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee. The graduate of Notre Dame and University of Wisconsin Law School found his niche in the competitive world of trial work, where he racked up plenty of wins. Would he follow in his great-grandfather’s footsteps and become a judge? All signs pointed to that possibility.

Through a random series of events, O’Meara, 32 at the time and known as Greg to his friends, caught the Dahmer case early. He was among the first to see the evidence.

“We had missing persons reports coming in from all over the country,” he recalls. “I wrote the order to get Dahmer’s blood sample so we could separate his blood from blood found at the scenes to determine who he killed.”

The blood came from attractive young men, many of whom lived on the fringes of society, kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation—easy pickups for a good-looking charmer like Dahmer.

“He was actually a nice guy,” says O’Meara, who talked with Dahmer many times, saw him in all his complexities, and came away with a compassion for the man most people would not understand. “He was very smart, he came from a rich family but he was horribly vulnerable [to his impulses]. His co-workers found him charming, funny, and engaging.”

The funny and engaging part disappeared pretty quickly after Dahmer lured his victims to his grandmother’s house, or his apartment, and started drinking.

In most of the murders, Dahmer sedated his victims by slipping a sleeping agent into their drinks. He raped his unconscious prey, strangled them, and then engaged in various sex acts with the corpses. He dismembered the bodies with a knife or chain saw and disposed of them by stripping the flesh off bones with acid, then pulverizing the bones.

He collected skulls and genitalia as trophies. He ate parts of three victims, telling psychiatrists later it was a way he could make them become a part of him. Police reports from the scenes make mention of various seasonings and meat tenderizers. The media latched onto the cannibal aspect of the case, thus coining Dahmer’s nickname.

Dahmer’s desperate desire to acquire a permanent—and compliant—lover added yet another layer of “bizarre” to his horror story. He drilled holes in the skulls of his last four victims and poured acid into their brains in an attempt to create a sex zombie. It didn’t work.

Was Dahmer sane when he committed these depraved acts?

“Absolutely, whatever definition of sanity we have, ” says O’Meara, echoing the prosecution’s contention that he belonged in a prison, not an institution—the question at the center of the trial.

“He calculated and deliberately planned everything to the point that, when he was leaving a bar, he would never go home with someone who had a car. He would always have a taxi drop them off four or five blocks away from his apartment so no one could trace it.”

After a two-week trial in February 1992, the jury agreed with the prosecution. Dahmer went to prison, where he died at the hands of another inmate a few years later.

Six months after the trial ended, O’Meara entered the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuits.

“I had actually been thinking about it for a couple of years, but the timing hadn’t been right,” he says, waving off any assumption, as logical as it might sound, that the horrors of the Dahmer trial sent him straight to the priesthood.

O’Meara’s good friend since 1985, the Rev. Roc O’Connor, S.J., an Omaha native and the first Jesuit O’Meara ever met, had a sense early on where O’Meara was heading. The Dahmer case solidified his feeling. “As horrible as that case was, Greg showed a lot of compassion. But he also had a lot of care for the victims and their families. He made sure they wouldn’t be lost in the flash of [Dahmer’s] terrible deeds.”

O’Meara hasn’t thought of himself as a prosecutor for 25 years, preferring his roles as rector of Creighton’s Jesuit community, tenured law professor, counselor to anyone who seeks his help, and a friend who laughs easily.

Few parishioners of St. John’s Church on the Creighton campus even know of O’Meara’s involvement in that infamous case, so when he joyously and repeatedly proclaims his belief of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, they don’t realize he’s drawing from a deeper well than most.

Visit law.creighton.edu/faculty to learn more about the academic and professional background of the Rev. Gregory O’Meara.

This article appeared in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Java Journey

April 28, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Like many who guzzle black gold, Sagar Gurung started downing coffee purely for utilitarian reasons.

The taste—he could have done without.

Sagar Gurung

“I started for the caffeine,” Gurung says. “When I took that first sip, I said, ‘What the hell is this? It’s bitter.’ I would add a lot of sugar, milk, and cream to it.”

Gurung has come a long way in his java journey. He is the founder and part-owner of one of Omaha’s newest non-chain caffeine joints, Himalayan Java Coffee House. It launched in June 2016 at 329 S. 16th St., across from the Orpheum Theater on Harney Street.

Not that long ago, what Gurung knew about coffee didn’t amount to a hill of beans. He has worked as a business analyst (currently for Valmont Industries) after earning a degree in computer science from Bellevue University in 2004. Gurung was born in Chitwan, Nepal, but lived mostly in India until he moved to Omaha in the 10th grade to live with his older sister. He graduated from Omaha Gross High School.

He took regular trips back home to Nepal, and it was during one of those trips that he went from coffee novice to coffee aficionado. The spark was a visit to Himalayan Java Coffee, a franchise launched in 1999 by Gagan Pradhan and Anand Gurung in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

Nepal is mostly a tea-loving country, but Pradhan and Anand Gurung were changing that with a concept utilizing small coffee farmers whose harvest had mostly been going outside the country. Nepalese farmers were more likely to grow millet or maize than they were coffee, which wasn’t introduced to the country until 1938 by a hermit who brought seeds from Myanmar (then Burma).

By the 1970s Nepalese farmers were beginning to pay attention to coffee as a serious cash crop. Today, it’s grown in nearly three dozen districts, thriving in one of the highest elevations in the world.

Pradhan and Anand Gurung, according to Sagar, “introduced coffee to Nepal,” showing countrymen how it should be planted, raised, roasted, brewed, and imbibed. Their efforts resonated—today, more than 20 Himalayan Java shops have been introduced in Nepal.

On Sagar’s first visit to Himalayan Java Coffee in Nepal, “I instantly loved everything they were doing,” he says. He began to lobby the duo to let him bring their brand and their coffee to his adopted homeland. He also proposed the idea to Nepalese friends who lived in Omaha, asking them to join as partners.

Finally, the founders relented. “I think they just wanted to make me stop bugging them.”

The Nepalese founders are more like “strategic partners” than they are franchisees, Sagar says, but the Omaha Himalayan Java buys all its coffee from its Nepalese counterpart.

It’s a competitive market in Omaha, dominated by national and local chains. Sagar says such competition only gave him more reason to launch Himalayan Java here. And none of the others in Omaha can offer the distinct Arabica flavor available in his store.

“Coffee has a natural tendency to embody its environment,” Sagar says. “So the taste you get is very unique to the area you grow in.”

He appears to have picked an ideal location for the startup. Customers come frequently from the Orpheum across the street, of course, but Himalayan Java also gets employees from nearby Union Pacific, First National, OPPD, other downtown businesses, students from Creighton and UNMC, and downtown denizens.

Himalayan Java offers a full complement of caffeinated beverages—espressos, cappuccinos, mochas, lattes, and more. The No. 1 seller, Sagar says, is the “Dark Roast 4.” The menu also includes sandwiches, soups, and salads.

Sagar says customer retention has been strong and that word-of-mouth marketing has helped  Himalayan Java enjoy 15- to 20-percent growth month over month. Enough that he’s had at least preliminary discussions about expanding to a second store.

He’s also heard from enough customers that he plans to introduce some home-cooking with a menu that should include Nepalese goat and chicken curry; “thukpa,” an intensely flavored noodle soup; and “momos,” spicy Nepalese dumplings typically filled with marinated minced meat.

“I want to introduce Nepali items you can’t get anywhere else in town,” he says.

For now, though, he’s intent on making sure Himalayan Java makes a name for itself with its roasts — something customers should recognize just steps inside.

“We are a coffee house, and it is a beautiful thing to walk into a store and the aroma hits you,” he says.

It took him a while to get there, but he says the taste is even better.

“Now I like my coffee dark with no sugar, no milk, or cream,” Sagar says. “I just love the way our coffee tastes.”

He’s hoping more and more Omahans will agree.

Visit himalayanjavausa.com for more information.

This article was published in the May/June edition of The Encounter.

Aloha Bluejays

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Creighton has long maintained a cross-cultural connection with Hawaii. The university considers the Central Pacific archipelago one of its top-10 recruiting states, and students from Hawaii have been flocking to this “Maui of the Midwest” for nearly a century.

The first Hawaiian student enrolled at Creighton University in 1924, long before the territory became a state (which eventually happened in 1959). Creighton started seeing increased Hawaiian enrollment after World War II in the 1940s, amid heightening racism toward people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, says Associate Director of Admissions Joe Bezousek.

While resentment lingered from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other U.S. military engagements in East Asia, Creighton intentionally rejected riding the wave of then-popular discrimination.

“Creighton has always followed the Jesuit value of being accepting and treating everyone with dignity and respect. So, Creighton kept our doors open and that was a big trigger moment,” Bezousek says.

Current students of Hawaiian heritage say the school does much to foster a culture of inclusion and supply resources necessary for Native and non-indigenous Hawaiians alike to continue being engaged with their culture while thousands of miles from home.

Ku‘uipo Lono is a student at Creighton and a participating member of Hui ‘O Hawai‘i, an on-campus Hawaiian organization. Lono’s favorite part of the Hawaiian club, and the centerpiece of the organization’s calendar, is the annual lu‘au.

According to Lono, lu‘au was first conceptualized in Hawaii as a celebration of life.

“Lu‘au was originally done for a baby’s first birthday,” Lono says. “When Western people came to Hawaii, they brought a lot of diseases with them, and so it was a big deal for a baby to live past one year.”

Today, the number of Native Hawaiians who continue on to post-secondary education remains low, Lono says, so leaving the island for college is a big deal. For Lono, leaving Hawaii was a matter of broadening her horizons, sharing Hawaiian culture, and in some ways, defending her traditional culture.

“There is a big controversial thing happening on the Big Island where the United States wants to build a big telescope on a mountain, and Native Hawaiians are protesting,” she says. “For some people, being Hawaiian is going up on the mountain and protesting—for others, being Hawaiian is getting an education and being part of the committee who decides whether or not to have the telescope built.”

Much like there is a distinction between Native Americans and non-indigenous American people born and raised in America, Lono says there is a cultural difference between Native Hawaiians and people who are simply from Hawaii. Creighton’s Hui ‘O Hawai‘i is inclusive of both groups.

“There are people who are not Hawaiian at all who participate,” Lono says. “A common thing you will hear people say is ‘I am Hawaiian at heart.’”

Sela Vili is a sophomore at Creighton. Although not of indigenous Hawaiian heritage, she is from Hawaii and played a lead role in a play performed at last year’s lu‘au. More than 1,000 people attended the 2016 event, which is inclusive to other Polynesian cultures, too, not just Hawaiian.

Vili says the celebration is different each year, and the food is always authentic.

“We have a food committee, and we bring down a chef from Hawaii,” Vili says. “I love the entertainment in the lu‘au. I love dancing in it, especially given that I have been dancing since the age of 5.”

Vili refers to the Hawaiian community on campus as her family away from home. She says Hawaii is very important to her, which drives a lot of her participation in the club.

“I want to be involved in the lu‘au so I can share my culture with everyone else,” Vili says. “It’s a way for me to keep in touch with home, and also a great way to meet other students that are from Hawaii.”

Hawaiian culture is based on the idea that you live off the land and work in the fields, Lono says, but going to college offers an opportunity for a different type of life. She admits there can be some resentment toward Westerners by Native Hawaiians, especially considering the legacy of colonization and forced acculturation.

“[I used to think] this is not fair. Why do we have to work to pay rent for land we already own,” Lono says. “My perspective changed when I came here. The same thing happened to the Mexicans and the Native Americans, and I think the best thing to do is not really accept it, but to learn about it, make a difference, and move forward from it.”

Lono is thankful for the opportunity to share her culture with the rest of Creighton’s diverse student population, and she praises the club’s approximately 250 members for caring enough about their culture to share with their peers and the general public of Omaha.

“Creighton recruits heavily from Hawaii, and it is nice having so many people from Hawaii so far away from home,” Lono says.

She laments the dearth of Hawaiian food in Omaha; however, the Hui ‘O Hawai‘i organization provides an essential group of friends who get together to cook authentic foods from home, in order to feel a little closer to the Aloha State—right here in Nebraska.

The 2017 Hui ‘O Hawai‘i Lu‘au takes place March 18 at Creighton University’s Kiewit Fitness Center. Doors open at 4 p.m., dinner begins at 5 p.m., and entertainment starts at 6 p.m. Tickets cost $20 general admission, $15 students, $12 children ages 4-12, free to ages 3 and under. Contact Lu‘au Chair Tiffany Lau at tiffanylau1@creighton.edu for more information.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Lights Out

October 15, 2015 by

Twilight has come for the Omaha Civic Auditorium. The main ring is empty of events, its website taken over by some sort of erotic online service out of Asia. The city put the building up for sale last year, seeking someone who would both demolish the cement-and-glass entertainment venue and develop something new in its place. The once massive structure, seating as many as 10,960 people, has become overshadowed by CenturyLink Center, which can seat close to 19,000. The arena once known for sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll may soon become home to the suits and ties of corporate America.

The auditorium should not pass without comment. This was, after all, where Elvis Presley performed one of his most disastrous late-period concerts. It’s where a vice-presidential debate between Democrat Lloyd Bentsen and Republican Dan Quayle entered the history books.

The auditorium opened its doors in December 1954, built by the city at a cost of $6,500,000, according to an Omaha World-Herald ad for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, the first act to appear in the auditorium’s smaller music hall. The New Year’s Day edition of the World-Herald was filled with ads from local businesses congratulating the city on its new auditorium. Peter Kiewit Sons’ ad stated “Omaha can be justifiably proud,” saying the auditorium will “stand as a symbol of a forward-looking leadership of our city.”

According to newspaper records, the first major event in the civic auditorium was a “boxing blitz,” the Golden Gloves Omaha City Tournament in January 1955 and the Midwest Championship in February, which promised “entertainment—with plenty of socks appeal!” The auditorium would often welcome sporting events, including Bluejays men’s basketball, Creighton women’s basketball and volleyball, the UNO hockey team, and the current Sacramento Kings NBA basketball team, known as the Kansas City-Omaha Kings between 1972 and 1985.

The arena served as the longtime stomping grounds for Omaha wrestling, with a record 10,310 people filling the stadium to see the taping of WWF Superstars of Wrestling on April 26, 1989. This event featured such legends of wrestling as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Randy Savage.

The popular music venue held concerts by the Rolling Stones, who appeared in July 1966, and Bob Dylan, who appeared in 1978. Virtually every band known to draw a large audience appeared at the civic, including REM, Van Halen, KISS, and, more recently, Beck, and the Foo Fighters.

The building also contained an exhibit hall and events venue that served as one of the epicenters of Omaha arts and culture—if that is what one calls the Guinness Book of World Records 1983 bean-eating contest. Better examples include coin shows, cat shows, and antique sales.

If something happened in Omaha, and it had any sort of following, there was a good chance it wound up at the civic auditorium. That building houses 60 years of memories, which people will hold on to long after the deconstruction is finished.

Notable Civic Auditorium gigs

April 19, 1963: Yetta Wallenda, a member of the famous Wallenda family of circus aerialists, performed a daring feat that involved “skirting on the borderline of eternity.” She climbed to the top of a 45-foot fiberglass pole and stood on her head. Losing her balance, she tumbled all the way to the ground. Doctors pronounced her dead by the time she reached the hospital.

March 4, 1968: Civil rights protestors confronted segregationist governor George Wallace. Upon arrival, they suffered violence from counter-protestors, then the police, resulting in the shooting of one protestor, a high-school student. The aftermath nearly incited a riot quelled by community leaders, including future state senator Ernie Chambers.

March 25, 1972: Council Bluffs heavyweight boxer Ron Stander lands a title match against world champion Joe Frazier. The resulting mayhem was brutal, with a ringside doctor stopping the fight after the fourth round, when Stander required 32 stitches.

June 19, 1977: Elvis Presley plays his second-to-last touring show. The suffering King of Rock and Roll notoriously forgot the lyrics to songs he performed for years, and died a few months later. The legendarily terrible performance was filmed for the television special Elvis in Concert, shown posthumously. Bootlegs of it circulate to this day.

November 8, 1988: Vice presidential hopefuls Dan Quayle (Republican) and Lloyd Bentsen (Democrat) faced off in a heated debate. Irritated by Quayle comparing himself to John F. Kennedy, Bentsen snapped: “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”


Individual Rights

March 2, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Omaha Magazine

The following anecdote explains much about retiring federal judge Joe Bataillon, but, more importantly, it is perhaps the greatest Creighton basketball love story ever told.

Bataillon left the U.S. Federal Courthouse early one spring day a few years ago to get home in time to watch Creighton play in an NCAA tournament game. When he opened the door to his back porch, he looked down and saw a small rectangular metal box. It was not his. There was no message on the box. Considering some of the killers he has sent to prison, there was good reason to fear it was a bomb.His conundrum: If he called the U.S. Marshal’s office, he knew he would be forced to leave his house.

His brother, Douglas County District Court Judge Pete Bataillon, relates the rest of the story: “So Joe just goes inside and watches the game and only calls when the game is over to see if that’s actually a bomb on his porch,” Pete says. “The marshals come, make him leave, blow the thing up, and realize it’s an outdoor utensil set. A few weeks earlier he had presided over a wedding and the people dropped by with a present. They probably should have left a note.”

“The marshals were not at all happy that he put his life at risk for a basketball game,” his brother says.

So Joe Bataillon, graduate of Nebraska City Lourdes High School and Creighton Law School, is a big Bluejays fan. Got it. (He actually was the equipment manager for the basketball team in college. “We were low-budget back then. The guys had to really blow out their [Converse] Chuck Taylors before I could give them new ones.”). But there’s more there. After 17 years on the highest bench in Nebraska, ruling on everything from misdemeanors on tribal lands to brutal murders involving drug kingpins to the constitutionality of Nebraska laws, he is obviously a man courageous and seasoned enough to be walking calm in a world in which some very bad people might prefer him dead. And despite the gravity of his rulings on a massive number of cases (Judges of Nebraska’s federal district court have the eighth-highest caseload out of the nation’s 94 federal districts.), he’s still known in eastern Nebraska for giving up his limited free time to preside over wedding ceremonies.

Retired U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, who advocated for Bataillon’s nomination process in the mid-1990s, after Bataillon’s distinguished career with the county and in private practice, offers insight: “Joe is a terrific federal judge—he has been a very strong protector of individual rights,” Kerrey says. “He’s just a special guy.”

“And unlike me,” Kerrey jokes(?), “he’s extremely likable to boot.”

Be that as it may, Bataillon’s defining characteristic, his brother agrees, is that paramount concern for the rights of individuals when they are squared off against the government and the majority. Bataillon says he would be thrilled if that is, in fact, his legacy.

“You can never lose sight of the fact that these are real people and that you’re impacting their lives profoundly,” he says. “You have a duty to everyone who you’re going to impact to work your hardest to see the whole picture.”

Bataillon was raised in an environment sated in the concept of social justice. Amid his parent’s constant involvement in their community, his father founded and led Nebraska City’s volunteer rescue squad, a sometimes grisly and difficult effort to more quickly get life-saving help to people in crisis. “Caring for those less fortunate” is a foundational ideal of a Jesuit education, he adds. “It’s just an idea that’s always been there.” For one, throughout his career, Bataillon has been a key figure in building treatment and job programs for people trying to right and rebuild their lives after convictions.

Bataillon’s most controversial decision came nine years ago, when, in Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning, he ruled unconstitutional Nebraska’s voter-approved amendment to the state constitution that read “only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Nebraska.” His ruling for individual rights was overturned by a higher court, but his groundbreaking arguments can be heard in debates on the issue elsewhere in the country.

Bataillon still is impacting the argument over gay marriage. In late January, he ruled not to delay a lawsuit challenging Nebraska’s gay marriage ban while the U.S. Supreme Court considers the issue on the national level.

Amid a slew of major decisions, one other case stands out. It got Bataillon a lot of snickering press reports, but the fundamentals of the ruling speak to his own fundamental beliefs.

In 2013, Bataillon ruled that the Nebraska State Patrol needed to return more than $1 million confiscated from a woman in a traffic stop in 2012. The cops suspected it was drug money. Bataillon believed the evidence suggested the woman’s story was true.

In fact, Tara Mishra, 33, had been saving the money—perhaps a dollar at a time—over 15 years working as a stripper. Mishra was driving from California to New Jersey with her life savings to buy a nightclub. She wanted a new life, and her story checked out.

““The government failed to show a substantial connection between drugs and the money,” Bataillon wrote in his opinion.

“He understands the government has a tremendous amount of power,” Kerrey says. “It can be unpopular to make some of the rulings he has made, but when individual rights are being abridged, Joe has been there to provide the balance.”

While Bataillon retired from “active service” in the fall, he will continue in a semi-retired role as a senior federal judge. He’ll continue his very active role in national federal judiciary issues. What is quickly becoming clear is that there won’t be much retiring in his “retirement.”

“I’m not finished with this work by any means,” he says.


The Perfect Game

February 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Omaha Magazine.

If you have boys, and if you and those boys love baseball, and if those boys were cursed enough to be right-handed, you likely would have a hard time not day-dreaming on what-ifs while watching Pat Venditte throw a bullpen using his left hand.

Left-handed pitchers are gold in baseball. (While 10 percent of people are left-handed, 22 percent of pro pitchers are lefties). They make the team even if their fastball can’t break stemware. Pat Venditte was born a right-hander like most of us. But his dad, Pat Sr., followed through on that grand scheme that other dads of righties invariably abandon: When Pat junior was 3, Pat Sr. senior had him throw with both hands when they played catch, kick a football with both feet, and eat with both hands at dinner. In time, he was a genuine switch-pitcher, able to pitch from whichever hand gave him the biggest advantage over the hitter. “It was an experiment,” says his father as he watches Pat throw at Creighton’s Kitty Gaughan Pavilion. “But it wouldn’t have gone anywhere without Pat’s persistence. Any success is all his.”

So now, 25 years later, thanks to both rare nature and persistent nurture, Pat stands on this mound in Creighton’s baseball facility on the verge of the major leagues. He throws from three different arms slots from the left side and three more from his right like some six-armed Hindu deity. “I don’t overpower people,” Venditte says after his south-paw two-seam fastball draws a faint pop from the catcher’s mitt. “But I get people out. I’ve done that consistently all my career. If I keep getting people out, I should get my shot.”

For baseball fans in Omaha, especially Creighton fans, the Venditte story is pretty well known. He walked on at Creighton after a “nothing special” career at Central High School, struggled early, then had a breakout season in 2007. He held opposing batters to a .185 batting average, the fourth best in the nation. Still, scouts treated him as little more than an oddity. He was picked in the 40th round that year.

After his 2008 season, scouts took him more seriously. He went in the 20th round to the New York Yankees. Still, he was the 620th pick that year. Do the math. His chances of reaching the majors were considered slim.

Thanks to his custom-made ambidextrous glove, Venditte switches hands depending on the batter he faces. Early in his career, he met a switch hitter who switched sides every time Venditte switched to his opposite hand. There is now the “Pat Venditte Rule” [8.01(f)] that says he must declare which hand he’ll use and stick with it. He has a ruled named after him. That’s how rare he is.

Besides an injury that upended his 2013 season, Venditte put up call-up worthy numbers thoughout his minor league career (an impressive 2.46 ERA as a reliever in 384.2 innings). But even with those numbers, even though he is a fan-favorite who always draws onlookers when he warms up in the bullpen, the Yankees never gave him a shot. Near the end of last season, with the Yankees out of contention and Venditte yet again getting batters out, fans and some baseball writers were clamoring for him to get a chance. Once again, he didn’t.

He wasn’t bitter, he says. Just disappointed—again. “I saw the amazing guys around me, I had an idea of what the organization’s plans were, I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of things go right in my life. A lot of things. But sometimes it’s just not your day. This time it didn’t quite happen.”

Which brings us to the news in the Pat Venditte story. In the fall, Venditte was signed by the Oakland A’s. If you’ve seen Money Ball, you know why Venditte calls his signing “the perfect fit for me.”

The A’s management is famous for looking deep inside statistics to find under-valued, under-appreciated players. They embrace the unconventional. If you get guys out, you’ll get a shot. Venditte feels he has a real opportunity to play for manager Bob Melvin. “Honestly, I’ll probably end up in AAA (in Nashville) coming out of spring training,” Venditte says. “But if I show them I can be consistent—do the job I know I can do—I really think I’ll be given a shot. It’s a great opportunity.”

Many in the baseball world agree. Dave Rawnsley, national director of scouting for the scouting service, Perfect Game, says the A’s are the best organization in baseball for Venditte’s skillset.

“The A’s think outside the box and do creative things with their MLB roster,” he says. “With that is his great story. I think the Yankees made a mistake not giving Venditte a cup of coffee last fall once they were out of it. He’s such a great story. The positive publicity they could have gotten from that would have been a plus with all the bad stuff going on there. You can’t measure that in dollars.”

If Venditte finally reaches his dream this year, it is likely he will become a national story. Television cameras and fans will gravitate toward him. He will be star.

And then, no doubt, dad’s eager to give their boys an edge in the sport will start their own Venditte family program.

But, honestly, both father and son suggested boys and their fathers not get their hopes up too much. Rawnsley, who has tracked a nation of ballplayers for more than two decades, also says dads should temper their hopes.

“There are switch hitters, sure. But it’s so much more complicated to throw a ball than hit a ball. Dads wanting it to happen won’t impact the fact it’s extremely rare.

“That’s why Venditte is close to unique,” he says. “That’s why he’s such a great story.”


Winning Psychology

June 19, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A burst of electricity raced through the Omaha crowd. The score was tied, 60-60, with the clock nearly exhausted. Only 2.5 seconds remained. Then, Doug McDermott sank a three-pointer. Fifteen thousand blue-and-white bodies leapt to their feet.

Creighton won the mid-season conference match against St. John’s by a single basket. McDermott not only sank the winning three-pointer, he also scored a season-high 39 points.

Dr. Jack Stark was taking mental notes from the sidelines. As usual, Stark was standing amongst the team. He is the official sports psychologist for the Bluejays, a volunteer position that he has held for seven years.

Stark previously worked with Cornhusker football (1989-2004), with Omaha Mavericks hockey, and a host of other collegiate and professional programs. For the past 14 years, he’s been in the pits of NASCAR. He currently works intensely with six drivers: Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (winner of the Daytona 500 this year).

Altogether, Stark has been part of 20 national championships. He earned three championship rings with the Huskers, where he was instrumental in launching a player feedback council.

Players need someone to consult when crisis strikes off the field, he says, someone who isn’t the coach.

Stark continues working with former Huskers coach Frank Solich at Ohio University and recently began helping the Wyoming football team and Omaha Lancers hockey team. His accolades, mementos and signed posters adorn his home office in West Omaha. The former clinical psychologist (originally from Hastings, Neb.) refers to his collegiate and high school sports consulting as a “hobby.” NASCAR and business consulting provides his income.

Despite Stark’s privileged position to watch some of the world’s most memorable sporting events, he says that the Creighton Bluejays’ narrow win over St. John’s remains a particularly insightful moment for anyone wishing to understand one of sports history’s most special relationships—the relationship between one of college basketball’s all-time greats with his coach/father.

“Doug McDermott absolutely loves to play for his father. You can tell,” Stark says, recalling the frigid night in late January when coach Greg McDermott turned to his son with a simple compliment: “Doug, it was a great game, great effort.”

The younger McDermott was beaming in response, not because he had single-handedly carried the team. Rather, he was simply happy to help his father.

“I’ve been blessed to have worked with Heisman winners, players of the year, All-Americans, Olympic gold medalists, all of them,” Stark says, “but none of them are as good as Doug McDermott.”

Life on Swanny 9

May 1, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Our exploration of the city’s smallish living spaces continues with a trip over to “Swanny 9,” the ninth floor of Creighton University’s Swanson Hall. It was there in the tiny, 11.5 by 15-foot confines of Room 912 that we found freshmen Adrienne Pyle and Caitlin Wright.

Pyle, a pre-med student from Des Moines, and Wright, her pre-law roomie from Prior Lake, Minn., were deep in a cram session. The crushing weight of midterms was upon them, and there certainly wasn’t any time for…

Scholarly pursuits on Swanny 9 can shift to decidedly more social affairs at a moment’s notice. In what seemed like 10 seconds flat the room took on the appearance of a Tokyo subway car during rush hour, and the needle of a decibel meter would have been quivering somewhere between “hair metal band” and “jet takeoff.”

Funny thing is that we didn’t even set a record that day. “Getting 25 people in here is still pretty cozy,” Wright explains.

“No way,” Pyle replies. “Make that more like 30!”


Creighton vs. Villanova Win at Home

February 18, 2014 by
Photography by Joe Mixan Photography