Keli McGregor’s Impact Extended Past Baseball

April 20, 2010 | 5:52 pm | 7  

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Colorado Rockies will eventually find a new president.
They won’t, however, replace Keli McGregor.
McGregor had an ability to make things better in life.
His fame came in athletics.
The loss will be felt by the lives he has touched, and then some.
He was a two-time as All-American tight end at Colorado State University.
More importantly, as original Rockies managing general partner Jerry Morris put it, “he was an All-American in life.’’
McMorris’ relationship with McGregor began 30 years ago. McGregor was the athletic specimen, recruited to CSU by Leon Fuller to play football. His roommate was Mike McMorris, a fragile youngster, the victim of cystic fibrosis.
They became like brothers. They lived together throughout college.
“Many nights, when Mike had a setback, Keli would be up, taking care of him until we could get there,’’ McMorris remembered.
Mike had a fascination with athletics, even though he couldn’t participate. McGregor found a way for Mike McMorris to be a part of things. He spoke with Coach Bruce about making Mike McMorris the team manager. Nobody could have been prouder of that opportunity than Mike McMorris.
At the time, Jerry McMorris owned a trucking company but no involvement in sports. The Colorado Rockies were not even a figment of the imagination. Baseball had not even given a thought to expansion.
“It was just a sign of Keli and his way of caring for people,’’ said McMorris. “He was doing what he could without any concern except helping Mike enjoy his time. As a parent, you never forget those things.’’
Mike died 16 years ago, at the age of 32. His memory, however, has been perpetuated in no small part by McGregor’s eager assistance with Jerry and Mary McMorris in their fund-raising efforts to find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis.
“No question about it,’’ said McMorris, “he was a special man.’’
McGregor was Colorado, tried and true. Born in Iowa, he was raised in the Denver area, and then attended Colorado State University, where he grew from a 6-foot-1, 180-pound freshman into a 6-foot-7, 270-pound NFL fourth-round draft choice.
His father was the longtime football coach at Arvada West High School.
McGregor’s professional life began with the Denver Broncos, but took him to Indianapolis and Seattle, where he played for the Colts and Seahawks.
It took him to Gainesville, where he was on the University of Florida staff for two years while he earned his master’s degree in Education with an emphasis on athletic administration.
It took him to Arkansas, where he was the assistant athletic director and Frank Broyles’ hand-chosen replacement, and was such a part of things down there that when Arkansas won the NCAA basketball championship, coach Nolan Richardson, in the midst of the locker room celebration, took time to call McGregor, and had each player get on the phone to thank McGregor for what he did to help the program.
Eventually it brought him home, to Colorado, to work for the Rockies, at the request of McMorris, with the idea that McGregor would eventually ascend to run the franchise, which he did.
McGregor was the calming influence in the Rockies organization. He was the stability that allowed the Rockies to undertake their long-term rebuilding plan that has resulted in the franchise using a home-grown nucleus to advance to the post-season twice in the last three years.
He helped Dick and Charlie Monfort deal with the frustrations that came in the long-term commitment, and kept general manager Dan O’Dowd from the emotional highs and lows that are created by the day-to-day success and failure that baseball can present.
McGregor’s abilities did not go unnoticed. He was a frequent target of other franchise owners, including last summer when Rogers Communications, which owns the Toronto Blue Jays, among other things, offered him a long-term contract to oversee their sports operations. That included not only the Jays and the Rogers Centre, but also efforts to bring the NFL Buffalo Bills to Toronto.
And after talking to Commissioner Bud Selig on Tuesday, there was a curiosity as to whether McGregor would have been a strong candidate to replace Selig if the commissioner does retire, as he has announced, after the 2012 season.
Selig ordered a moment of silence in honor of McGregor at all Major League games played on Tuesday night.
“He was a young man who walked into the room with an older group of owners, and commanded respect,’’ said Selig. “He brought a new thought process into the group and did it in a way that it was accepted and welcomed. He was a consensus builder.
“He will be sorely missed.’’
What will the Rockies do next?
Nobody knows.
For now, nobody really cares.
There was not a succession plan in place.
Nobody expected McGregor to go anywhere.
Not at the age of 48 and not in his physical condition. He ran five miles every day. He worked out regularly. He was careful with his diet.
But on Tuesday morning, after a Monday evening marketing event for the Rockies in Salt Lake City, McGregor was gone.
When he didn’t show up on time in the hotel lobby to go to the airport for a flight back to Denver, McGregor’s chief adjutant, Greg Feasel, executive vice president of business operations, called hotel security. They broke down the door to McGregor’s room, and found him laying face down on the floor.
“Stunned,’’ said Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, who had grown up in the Rockies organization as a player while McGregor was growing up as a member of the management team.
“You look at him, you talk to him, you never expect something like this, not with him,’’ said Helton. “He was a force in life, not just in athletics.’’

7 Comments »

  • Doctor_Christopher | April 20, 2010 | 8:53 pm

    First and foremost, my thougts and prayers to the McGregors and the Rockies families. Unexpected deaths of those still so young are just devestating.

    The Keil McGregor that Tracy outlines here has been a bit of long-distance mentor to me. The question is always asked whether you can run a business with integrity, with decency, with care of individuals and yet produce a great product. Keli’s long-term vision, his care of those in the organization, the way he helped mold this whole organization’s ethos was proof that it can be done and done well.

    My hopes are that those qualities of Keil have been so imbedded in the organization that it will be part of the future even though tragically, Keil won’t be. Thanks Tracy for a great piece.

  • Nic | April 20, 2010 | 10:11 pm

    Chris – I couldn’t agree with you more. I wrote an article on a site that said the same thing, that I hope that Keli’s legacy of building players with character is continued in honor of Keli.

    Tracy – Thanks for sharing the story of Keli and Mike and more about who Keli was.

  • fred | April 21, 2010 | 12:44 am

    Our prayers and our thoughts are with the McGregor family.

  • Brian DeHerrera | April 21, 2010 | 6:27 am

    Keli was more than just a good man. He was a man devoted to his faith in Jesus Christ. His actions came out of his dedication to his Lord to do the right thing even when he didn’t have to. The legacy he leaves is that a man can accomplish many goals with the Lord by his side—being the best husband, father, and employee that he could. The resounding thought that will give comfort to all is that Keli can now hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Thank you Keli for touching all of our lives and pointing us towards the cross.

  • LBW | April 21, 2010 | 3:20 pm

    Very nice article, Tracy. Sad time for all who knew this man. I cannot claim to really know him, only met him one time a year ago at the end of spring training. He came up in the near empty right field bleachers, entered into conversation with us “outfielders” and asked input on the possible move from Hi Corbett. He listened, was polite, and the whole time I never knew who he was. The ushers told me after. I feel so sad for his family and friends…..my thoughts and prayers are with them. RIP

  • Rory | April 21, 2010 | 3:26 pm

    Well written Tracy. This is truly a shocking and devastating loss. Keli will be greatly missed.

  • Agbayani | April 22, 2010 | 2:10 pm

    Tracy, thank you for a very well thought-out piece.

    I learned a lot about Keli, a man I never had the pleasure of meeting. As a 48 year old father of young kids myself, this one really hit me in the gut.