Storytime from a Diamond Rebels Road Trip: Remembering a dear friend, making new ones
Editor’s Note: This is a story of a truly remarkable friendship between two Ole Miss graduates, Kenny Elliott and Chris Muller (our senior baseball writer), a friendship that was borne out of a love for Ole Miss sports. Read how Chris continues to keep his dear friend’s memory alive.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Kenny (well, a cardboard cutout version of Kenny) and I set out for College Station and the Texas A&M vs. Ole Miss baseball series this past weekend.
Unfortunately, cutout Kenny was denied entry at the of the gates of Blue Bell Park. Frustrated, I set out to hike all the way back to my car so as to keep Kenny safe while I went back and watched the Rebs play.
The friendship begins
First, let me give you a bit of a back story about cutout Kenny — and my great friend Kenny Elliott whom the cutout represents.
Kenny, a 1989 graduate of Ole Miss, and I met at a Dallas-Fort Worth Ole Miss alumni social several years. He was from Marshall, Texas, while I resided in Arlington, so I couldn’t quite figure out how a long-distance friendship would work.
Somehow we started following each other on Twitter, then exchanged phone numbers, and later hung out during the Rebs’ Sugar Bowl game.
But it was our shared passion for Ole Miss Baseball that truly tied us together. Watching baseball with Kenny — whether from afar or together — was such fun. We attended multiple series at Texas A&M (lost the one in 2015, won in 2017). Kenny was the “ticket guy,” always able to find tickets (and good ones, too).
The sheer number of texts we would exchange during a single Ole Miss baseball game was mind-boggling. We attended both the 2018 and 2019 Oxford Regionals together. (Obviously, the 2019 Regional was much more enjoyable.)
Plans were in the works for traveling to the 2020 Regional, but then COVID hit hard, affecting ALL of us in many different ways. If you are a sports fan, as many of you reading this article are, the pandemic took something from you.
For an Ole Miss baseball fan, it robbed you of experiencing what was to come following the 16-1 start — much less cheated you out of seeing the final season in powder blues of Tyler Keenan and Anthony Servideo. The virus took away the spring weekends where you would spend hours upon hours watching Rebel baseball, either at Swayze or on TV.
(Yes, I know this is a small, insignificant inconvenience in comparison to those who became sick from and died due to COVID. I know people who died from COVID. People close to me have lost their loved ones, so the insignificance of sports compared to a world-wide pandemic is not lost on me.)
In June of last year, Kenny came over from Marshall and had dinner with my wife Amber and me. We all wondered whether football would even happen in the fall and, of course, if baseball would be played.
For a time last July, it actually looked as if football might be played in the spring. I booked a room at The Inn at Ole Miss for us for every weekend in April, so when football and baseball fell on the same weekend we’d be right there on campus.
In early August, I received a text from Kenny on a Friday morning asking if I had time to go to lunch later that day as he would be in town. I already had lunch plans and would normally never cancel on someone at the last minute — but in this one case, I’m glad my other friend kindly allowed me to reschedule.
The original plan was to meet at Plucker’s Wing Bar, but there was a 45-minute wait. So we changed course and headed to one of my favorites in Arlington, Hurtado BBQ. It’s a new place in town with excellent food. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why Kenny would drive all the way from Marshall just to have lunch.
Amber and I talked about it later that weekend, finally coming to the same conclusion. That is just who Kenny is, someone who would drive two-plus hours just to have lunch with a good friend.
Sunday, August 2 was Kenny’s 54th birthday. When we talked, I asked if it was a good day. “Yes,” he said. “Pretty low key — but a good day.”
He also told me his mom gave him a $100 gift certificate to The Inn at Ole Miss. “So that will help us out next time we are there,” he said. “Mom finished my (Ole Miss t-shirt) quilt, as well,” he added.
August 4, 2020
Tuesday, August 4, at approximately 9:45 a.m. my phone rang. Caller ID indicated it was a call from Kenny. This was strange. Like many of us in 2020, Kenny and I communicated mostly via text.
I answered the call. I know many of you reading this have answered a similar call — the call from a friend you usually don’t “talk” to but text with.
Yes, it was that call. The call you never want to receive. Kenny’s mom was on the other end of the phone, explaining Kenny suffered a heart attack and was gone.
To say I was shocked is beyond an understatement. As I said in an online tribute to Kenny, this was not how it was supposed to be. Kenny and I were supposed to grow old together, attending Ole Miss baseball games until we could no longer walk.
Kenny’s mom used the picture we had taken from the 2019 Regional for his Celebration of Life picture.
After Kenny’s Celebration of Life, his mom gave me his Ole Miss quilt. It is something I’ll treasure the rest of my days.
It is important to those who love Kenny to keep his spirit alive in any way we can, and because Ole Miss was such a part of his life, we did a couple of things in his honor that I know would make him happy.
Kenny, who worked for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas, was placed on the “Ole Miss Heroes” cup. (In the photo, he’s right next to the ® symbol after the last “s” in “Ole Miss”).
We also bought a cardboard cutout of Kenny to place in Vaught-Hemingway for football season. (Looks like he had good seats!) I was told he moved over to The Pavilion for basketball season. And, of course we bought a cutout Kenny for Swayze Field, too.
Cutout Kenny hits the road
I also wanted to keep Kenny’s memory alive by including him in the Diamond Rebs’ 2021 season. My goal was to have him in attendance at every game — and also to recreate that picture from the 2019 Regional every time I could.
The Rebels began the season in Arlington, and that was perfect for me as it was a mere 15-minute drive from my house to the stadium. Kenny’s sister had invited us to her suite for the weekend, so I hatched my plan. I found a local vendor to create my own cardboard Kenny — thus, cutout Kenny was born.
Next, Kenny made the road trip to Louisiana Tech for the Rebs’ game. He would also faithfully watch games with me in my sports room at home when I wasn’t at games in person.
So……now back to last Friday in College Station.
Having been denied entry for cutout Kenny into Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park, I was forced to make the long hike back to my car to store him for safekeeping.
Already frustrated, as I made my way back to the car, I attempted to cross the street at the same spot where I had recently gone on my way to the stadium — only to be told I could suddenly (and for some reason still unbeknownst to me) no longer cross there and would have to make another long walk down the street just to get to where I could cross to make the long walk back to the parking lot.
Yes, this added to my frustration.
But then, as often happens, good fortune shined down upon me. I encountered a couple of Aggies who were curious about cutout Kenny. I briefly explained the story, telling them he was being denied admission to the stadium. This kind, sympathetic gentleman offered to let Kenny stay in his car during the game.
As it was getting close to first pitch, I thankfully accepted. Not thinking, however, I left cutout Kenny without getting a name or phone number for the good Samaritan. (But, I remembered his car.) Friday night after finishing up, I left the stadium but could not find the gentleman who had Kenny. Then, on Saturday I couldn’t find him either before or after the game.
I grew concerned cutout Kenny might become a permanent resident of College Station.
Sunday rolled around, and 15 minutes before game three began, I looked around the parking lot one last time and there it was — the same white SUV backed into the same spot.
I found him! Cliff Kay and Wendy had indeed taken good care of my friend Kenny. I’ve always said Kenny never met a stranger, and this continues to be true. Cliff and I exchanged phone numbers and met up after the game for me to take back cutout Kenny.
When we had failed to find one another, Cliff even tried to locate me via Twitter to return Kenny!
@OleMissBSB & fans. A Rebel Fan was not able to take a cut out of his friend Kenny into Blue Bell Park on Friday. I offered to take it so he didn’t have to hike back to car. Does anybody know who Kenny’s friend is. I would like to return him. We will be parked in same spot. pic.twitter.com/JSRV8MZHCR
— Cliff Kay (@rerunsdad) May 9, 2021
Kindness matters most
While we are all passionate about our individual teams, sometimes what matters most in the long run is our kindness to others. The spirit of friendship and lending a hand to another is strong with my new Aggie friend. I’m happy to have met Cliff and experienced first-hand his compassion for an opposing fan. He didn’t have to do what he did, but that’s just the kind of guy he is.
And I know Kenny would have done the same, because that’s the kind of guy he was.
My friend Kenny was a Rebel, through and through. And while he loved his Ole Miss sports without a doubt, he also dearly loved the relationships he made through them — relationships like the one he and I shared.
Post script to the story: After game three in College Station, I was finally able to get Kenny into the stadium to recreate my picture.
Hotty Toddy and Gig ‘Em!
Chris is our Director of Baseball Content and Senior Baseball Writer. Muller is a 1995 Graduate of Ole Miss. He is a collegiate recreational sports professional currently residing in Arlington Texas with his wife of 25 years, Amber, and German Shorthaired Pointer, Sophie. Chris is an avid Ole Miss Baseball and Football fan. His hobbies include watching college football and baseball and playing poker with his friends.
What a beautiful story! Ken’s mother, Peggy, & I taught school together when I was in my 20’s. She was an incredible Christian inspiration. Your story of Ken touches my heart! Friendships are priceless & sounds like you two had a beautiful friendship. Maybe God intends for you & your new found friend to begin a new & meaningful relationship also. Cutout Ken makes me smile! 😊