By Sandy Deneau Dunham
PLU Marketing & Communications
TACOMA, Wash. (April 7, 2015)—Jim Kittilsby ’60 is the first to admit he probably wasn’t the premier baseball player of his era—or the winningest baseball coach once he returned to his alma mater in 1970 to lead the team.
So when Pacific Lutheran University dedicates its new baseball-field press box to Kittilsby on May 3, he’s pretty sure he is not being honored for his athletic prowess.
“I’m humbled and elated and extremely honored to be recognized,” Kittilsby said. “But it’s got to be for my behind-the-scenes work, if anything, because I certainly wouldn’t be recognized for my coaching record or my batting average as a three-year-starting Lute outfielder in the late 1950s. To make a case for me to receive an award like this, it wasn’t because of my performance!”
Kittilsby is humble, if not a home-run hero. His contributions to athletics, baseball and PLU are considerable—and often not so behind-the-scenes. Kittilsby:
- worked as PLU’s Sports Information Director and Assistant Athletic Director while coaching baseball. He then a Major Gift Director in the Office of Development, where he worked until retiring from PLU in 1993;
- worked in administration for professional baseball teams for 11 years, including the San Francisco Giants and the Milwaukee Brewers;
- was inducted into the PLU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001; and
- was awarded the Heritage Award by the PLU Alumni Board of Directors in 2008.
Kittilsby and his family also continue to support and connect with PLU in a variety of meaningful ways: Kittilsby has served on the Alumni Board, managed Lute Club and is on the Hall of Fame selection committee; his daughter, Kim Kittilsby ’84, is a two-term president of the Scandinavian Cultural Center; his son, Tim Kittilsby ’84, and his wife, Lisa Kittilsby ’84, made a generous gift to PLU to install artificial turf on the baseball infield; and daughter-in-law Lisa serves on the Board of Regents.
“When we put in a new press box this spring, it seemed like the perfect way to honor Jim Kittilsby and his family,” said Lauralee Hagen, Senior Advancement Officer at PLU and dedication organizer, who has known Kittilsby since the 1970s. “Jim was quite well thought of while at PLU. He was creative as can be; he developed the PLUTO (Pacific Lutheran University Traumatic Occurrence Awards) that were given out at the spring sports banquet each year. Jim was always the emcee, and these awards were sprinkled throughout the more serious ones, and that’s how we learned about some of the funny mishaps that had happened over the course of the year.”
Kittilsby’s tribute from his 2001 Hall of Fame induction proves he has had an even larger impact on PLU athletics, including his significant role in changing the teams’ nickname from Knights to Lutes and his popular “Old Time Prices Night” promotion at basketball games. Kittilsby also returned PLU football and men’s basketball to the radio and handled play-by-play duties for Lute baseball from 1983-85. He was named PLU Distinguished Alumnus in Sports in 1980 and The News Tribune’s Puget Sound Athletic Administrator of the Year in 1978. As Sports Information Director, he won three “best in nation” awards for his recruiting books and media guides.
“I worked in sports in an era in which there was almost daily face-to-face contact with the news media,” Kittilsby said. “This doesn’t happen anymore, and that’s not because Jim Kittilsby left and everything went to pot. That was before high-tech, and press relations were totally different. People say, ‘Gee, Jim, when you were publicist, the Lutes got a lot of ink in the papers and time on the Seattle stations.’ I can’t take credit for that. (The late, legendary coach) Frosty Westering did that. I just happened to be here at the time.”
The dedication ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. May 3, which is also Senior Day. Kittilsby, who now lives in Issaquah, will attend, of course, along with his wife, Karen Grams ’67; son Tim and daughter-in-law Lisa; daughter Kim; and grandson Parker Kittilsby. It won’t be the first time Kittilsby has seen the press box—he drops in for a game every once in a while because he’s still a big fan of baseball, and PLU’s current baseball program.
“I am just so pleased with the performance and the work of the current coach, Geoff Loomis, who’s taken PLU in the last more than a decade to new heights they’d never seen before,” Kittilsby said. “For a number of years, PLU never won a conference championship. Baseball was at a low ebb at PLU in the 1940s and ’50s; there were some good athletes, but baseball has never enjoyed the success that Geoff has delivered. I’m very proud of him and the current players.”
The new press box is one more step in an ongoing effort to improve the baseball park and PLU athletic facilities in general, Hagen said: New bleachers and turf have been installed, and now announcers, scorekeepers and media will find counters, writing surfaces and shelter in a press box fittingly named for the humble but hugely influential Kittilsby.
“I did things in baseball behind the scenes,” Kittilsby said. “My skillset in sports fits better in the press box than it does at home plate or in the coaching line. Certainly they wouldn’t name home plate after me.”