Saying Goodbye to Our Mentor

By Jill E. Wolforth-


Life is full of ups and downs.  It’s one of the reasons we call it ‘Life’.


One of the great things about life is the opportunity it presents for us to make a difference in the lives of others.  I was reminded of that in a big way this week.


Earlier this week, we received word that our marketing/business mentor of 20 years, Dan S. Kennedy, was losing a battle with a severe blood infection that had reared its head only a couple weeks ago.  The news was shocking and made worse with the information that he was in hospice care and only expected to live a couple more days.  By the time this article is being published, he may have already passed.


So why am I writing about a man that very few reading this will know? 


Simple, without the guidance of Dan Kennedy, Ron & Jill Wolforth and the Texas Baseball Ranch would certainly not be what it is today.  I am going to start with a brief history and then share why I believe this is important for you…


In 1995, when we opened our first training facility in Houston, the CAN-AM Baseball/Softball Academy, we were basically a mom and pop shop that provided local baseball and softball lessons.  We enjoyed teaching and we were good at what we did.  That being said, it became apparent rather quickly that we were good at baseball & softball instruction but not so good at running a business. 


We have always been of the belief that with the right information and the right teaching people could succeed at whatever they set their mind to.  I believed this had to be the case with business and marketing as well, so I started looking for books on the subject to study.  I found and purchased a training course called “Magnetic Marketing” from a Nightingale-Conant magazine.


This particular program was by the aforementioned Dan Kennedy.  The material was fascinating and informative.  In the package, along with the training materials, there was a sales letter for a marketing event Dan was going to be holding in Phoenix, AZ. As I read through the information, I felt in my heart this was an event Ron & I really needed to attend.


I approached Ron with the information and thought I did a good job of explaining what it was about and how it would benefit us.  I then shared with him the cost of the event, which was just under $2,000.  With us being in the early stages of our business, $2,000 was a HUGE amount of money. 


On top of that, for Ron, anything that had to do with “marketing” or “sales” was considered sleezy and slimy, and in his mind should put you close to the bottom of the food chain.  Considering the cost and his mindset about marketing, his response was, “I’d rather take the $2000, go to the backyard, light it on fire and watch it burn.  That would be far more enjoyable to me than attending a marketing seminar.” 


Yes, that is what he said.


I really don’t remember how I coaxed him into it, but we ended up in Phoenix for the event and it forever changed the direction of our business and our lives. 


At that event, Dan told Ron, “You need to write a book”.  Shortly after that, our first information product “Helping a Pitcher’s Lightbulb Turn On: 16 Key Positional Relationships that Affect Performance” (yes, that was its actual title J) was created and sold.  It wasn’t a best seller, but it was a first step, actually a huge step as it got us started down an important path, one that gave us a national audience and lead to the creation of our first nationally known company, Pitching Central. 


That was 1998.


I could go on to share the additional stories of how the business continued to develop over the next decade with the mentorship of Dan but I want to switch the focus to more philosophical things we learned along the way that have been every bit as important to us as the business pieces.


For example, early in our time with Dan, he accepted us into one of his mastermind groups.  There were certain application criteria that were to be met to be accepted into the group. To this day, I’m quite sure he allowed us into his first group before we actually “qualified”. 


Why would he do that? 


I can only guess, but I think there were a few reasons: 1) we were willing to work hard, 2) we had an optimism about us, a belief that we would succeed and 3) we were good people that wanted to do good things for others.


It’s really very similar to us with our “Elite Pitchers Bootcamps”.  We get the call all the time from parents saying they’re not sure their son is elite enough or asking what qualifies someone as elite? 


It’s a great question. To us, elite is a mindset.  It’s a belief that you will be better tomorrow than you are today.  It’s also what’s in your heart, knowing that you control your actions and you are willing to work through the ups and downs that meet you on your path. 


Although Dan presented a very gruff demeanor, Ron and I always joked that he was a Teddy Bear inside. He loved seeing people succeed. He loved seeing people meet challenges head on and come out stronger on the other side.  We share that sentiment.


Here’s another example. Early in our business, after applying Dan’s teachings, we had become quite proficient marketers of our products and services.  Combining that marketing with our cutting-edge training processes, we began to have some real success as a business. 


Here was the interesting result.  Many other baseball academy businesses/instructors began to say that we weren’t really that good at training players, we were just really good at marketing.   Initially, I was irritated by that.  I didn’t want to be known as a marketer.  I wanted us to be known as the country’s premiere baseball pitcher training facility.


When I mentioned it to Dan, he smiled (which he didn’t do very often) and said, “Of course that’s what they’re going to say.  They can’t let themselves believe that you are succeeding because of the product and service you provide.  That would mean having to admit you were better than them.  And besides, it means what you’re doing is working!”  After that, any time I heard a negative intended reference to us being good marketers I’d smile and think to myself “Indeed we are.”


Dan always said, “If you’ve got a great product or service, people want to know about it and it’s your responsibility to get that information in front of them.  He always said you must understand the difference between an annoying pest and a welcome guest.  If you have something of interest to them that will truly help them, you will be a welcome guest.”


This sometimes gave me pause because humility tells me not to brag, not to make a big deal about who we are and what we do.  With that thought process, I had to assume people would somehow figure it out. Dan’s teaching helped me realize how silly that thinking actually was and I’m often reminded of it when a parent at one of our camps says to me, “I only wish we would have heard about you sooner”.  It’s my job to make sure they do, and I have come to embrace Dan’s thought process that people are looking for what we have, and we let them down if we don’t get the message out there.


My final thought on Dan’s teaching.  Very early on, he asked us what business we were in to which we answered, “We’re in the baseball training business”.  He suggested that was way too simplistic.  After digging deeper, we realized he was right once again.  We weren’t in the baseball business, we were in the “Hopes, Dreams and Possibilities business” and it’s an amazing business to be in. 


Dan emphasized and exemplified that the best sustaining businesses are about the relationships and the experiences, not just the transactions.  The sales are simply a by-product.  For many years, we have worked to develop an amazing environment for our players and their families.  We take pride in the relationships that have been formed and Dan had a profound impact on that philosophy. 


For the past couple days, as I have contemplated our 20+ year relationship with Dan Kennedy, I am sad to think that he won’t be around to mentor us, reminding us of a little thing here are there that we’ve forgotten or presenting a new idea that he wants us to contemplate, knowing that it might make us a bit uncomfortable. I’m sad thinking that others won’t have the opportunity to learn directly from him and experience his genius.


At the same time, I’m so grateful that our path crossed his.  This past week has just really hit home with me the importance of a good mentor and what a difference it can make in someone’s life.  I only hope that we can have a fraction of the impact on other’s lives that Dan Kennedy has had on ours. 


Jill & Dan in 2015.



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