Mike Baxter is stepping down as general manager of baseball operations for the Peninsula Oilers, and the organization has found a familiar replacement.
Former Oilers player and assistant coach John Kennedy — a 1978 Kenai Central high graduate who has been an Oilers fan since the birth of the team — will be taking over the daily management of the team.
“(The Oilers) approached me about a month ago and said let’s talk about it,” Kennedy said. “It worked out, and for me it’s exciting. It puts me around the park every day.”
Baxter, a longtime member of the Oilers operations committee in the Alaska Baseball League, will be continuing his role as chairman of baseball operations, but said the decision to leave his GM role was based on his focus on the team.
“I’ve got a business and wasn’t doing good enough with both jobs,” Baxter said. “We’ve got a good board of directors and just good people.”
Baxter owns and operates Unique Bus Charters in Kenai, which plays a large role in transporting the Oilers and other ABL teams in the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage areas.
“I felt that I couldn’t do as good a job with my GM duties, and I feel like I was letting them down by not giving 100 percent to them,” Baxter said. “Fortunately, there are some good office people, and some board members have stepped in.”
The Oilers were established in 1974 and joined the ABL to promote America’s pastime on the peninsula, and it wasn’t long before Baxter showed up. The Kenai native joined the Oilers in 1977 and served as the GM from 1995 through 2004. Since then, Baxter has served as a board member and twice filled in as interim GM.
Kennedy said he was an Oilers fan right from the start, when the team formed 42 years ago. Kennedy was about 13 or 14 years old then, and just eight years later, found himself catching for the team in 1982. Kennedy played at Arizona University for one season before heading to Bemidji State for three years in Minnesota.
After his college years, Kennedy decided to return home and take up a career in teaching, where he was hired at Soldotna High School. His coaching career began when his kids were old enough to swing a bat, as he took up a tee ball coaching position in 1992.
Following a six-year coaching stint with the American Legion Twins in Kenai, Kennedy joined the Oilers as an assistant coach from 2011 through 2014. That was the same year that Kennedy played an integral role in forming the Kenai Central baseball team, which he continues to coach today. Kennedy retired from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District last year.
“It’s one of those things I wasn’t planning on doing,” Kennedy said. “I’ll be communicating with the board and make sure I know what’s going on.”
Reflecting on his prouder moments with the team, Baxter pointed to the 10 straight seasons the Oilers finished fourth or higher at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kansas.
“Seeing as many players go on to the major leagues, that always excites me too,” Baxter said.
Baxter added that while he still plans on being involved with the Oilers organization, the lack of time he was able to devote to the team was one thing he wishes he could have.
“There’s mixed emotions about it,” he said. “After all the years, I feel real close to them, but I can also recognize when I’m not doing as good as I could.”