Lipscomb baseball coach Ken Dugan didn't make a habit of signing junior college players but he had lost four key players after the 1978 season and he needed some immediate help. One of two junior college players he signed for the 1979 season was Mike Cunningham who had played two seasons at Motlow State Community College. Cunningham was a key part of the team that won the NAIA World Series in 1979. After college Cunningham was hired full-time by Worth and helped market the company's bats to professional baseball players. But in 2004 things changed at Worth and Cunningham found himself owning a family business. He spent some time this week talking with Lipscombsports.com.
What years did you play at Lipscomb? Who were your coaches?
"I played for Lipscomb from fall of 1978 through the spring of1980. Ken Dugan was the head coach. Curtis Putnam and Roy Pardue were the assistant coaches."
Why did you choose to attend Lipscomb?
“Lipscomb had a pretty good reputation and a good baseball team. John Stanford recruited me to play for Middle Tennessee.
“I am a Church of Christ member. Coach Dugan contacted one of the elders at our church here in Tullahoma. Coach Dugan and I got connected and talked.
“At that time you could count on one hand the number of players Coach Dugan had brought in from junior college programs. He brought me and Steve Baertschi In at the same time. They had lost some left-handed hitters. We were both left-handed hitters and Lipscomb had that short porch in right field at the time at Onion Dell.
“It worked really well for me. I had the opportunity to step right in and play. That was pretty attractive to me.”
What is your fondest athletic memory at Lipscomb?
“In 1979 we won the NAIA World Series. Not too many college baseball players can say they won a national championship. It is one of the three greatest days of my life along with the day we adopted our son and the day I got married.
“We got a second chance that year. Grand Canyon College was supposed to go, but they had celebrated with champagne. They were a Baptist school and the team was suspended.
“The World Series was at Greer Stadium so the NAIA asked us to take Grand Canyon’s place after we had messed up and lost in Birmingham in the Area 5 tournament. It was extra special since we were given a second chance to win it.
“There was also a game at Greer when we played Vanderbilt my junior year and I went five-for-five. My last at bat I hit what was the longest home run hit out of Greer Stadium for a long, long time. I hit it over the fence in right-center.
“The Sounds had Steve `Bye, Bye’ Balboni at the time and he was known for his home runs. It was cool to hit a home run like that in Greer. They called it a `no-doubter’. As soon as I hit it everybody knew it was gone. Somebody measured it and it was more than 500 feet. It went over Chestnut Street.
“Scotti Madison was the catcher for Vanderbilt. Scottie, me and Reggie Whittemore had been going after each other for the home run lead in Nashville and Reggie had pulled away from us.
“Scotti said to himself real low, `fastball, right down the gut’. Sure enough there it was. He laughed at me as I crossed the plate. We became good friends when he went to the Majors. I would see him in spring training quite often when I worked for Worth.
“I turned around the next day when we were playing Tennessee State at Lipscomb and I went 0-for-5.”
Who had the biggest influence on you during your athletic career at Lipscomb? How?
"Pitcher Mark Roberts. I was a junior and he was a senior. Mark was Mr. Cool. He let nothing bother him. He was one of those guys who just didn’t get excited if the other team had a six-run lead against us or if we were ahead by six runs. He just went about his business.
“He would say, `Guys, let’s keep our heads together and go out and do what we do’.
“I really looked up to him. When you come into a new team you have that freshman disorder even if you are a junior like I was. Mark told me not to worry about what was going on around me and for me to just do what I do. I always appreciated that. He was a great guy and a great teammate.”
What is your fondest non-athletic memory from your time at Lipscomb?
“When we weren’t playing ball we were hanging out together. We were going to restaurants to eat and places like that. When I played at Motlow when we got through with practices or games we just went home.
“Living in the dorm there were always card games going on and music. The music was probably one of my biggest things. I was one of the biggest music freaks on campus. Listening to music was what I loved to do.
“My Dad has a 1958 Motorola furniture stereo. My Dad and I dragged that stereo up to the seventh floor of High Rise. It was 120 watts. Everyone would come to our room. If someone had bought a new album they would bring it in and we would listen to it. At that time Boston was out and Journey was out. We would just blast it. Jeff Guy and Neal Langdon were my roommates. They loved it.
“Elvis was the king to me at the time and he still is. My Mom had all his albums. My nickname on the team at Lipscomb was `Elvis’.”
What is the most valuable thing you gained or learned from your time at Lipscomb?
“One of my traits that people tell me over and over again is I have a great personality. Coach Dugan always instilled in us to follow his rules, but for each of us to do what we had to do in life to make it.
“With my job at Worth and what I am doing now with my own business you have to be so out-going. You have to be personable and knowledgeable about what you are doing. And you have to do it and keep people interested.
“I have to get in front of customers and explain to them why my coffee and tea service is the best choice for them. I do it without being overbearing. I learned how to do that while I was at Lipscomb.
“We really gelled together as a team. Even though we had different states, different cultures and different religious backgrounds we all worked together and played together."
Who was your favorite professor? Why?
“I majored in speech communication. Dr. Marlin Connelly was so interesting. Dr. Tom Holland was also one of my favorites. They both really kept you interested in what we were doing.
“I also remember Dr. Batsell Barrett Baxter. He was a great Bible teacher. Having him for class was a tremendous experience.”
Where do you live now?
Who is your employer? What is your occupation? What does your position entail?
“I worked for Worth during the summers when I was at Lipscomb. I started working for them full-time in 1980. They sold out in 2003. I had offers from Louisville Slugger and Easton, but I would have had to move. So instead of selling balls and bats I decided to sell coffee and tea.
My uncle, D.A. Woosley was 79 and he was ready to sell his business, Woosley’s Coffee Service. It is a coffee and tea business he and my aunt had operated for 25 years. It was during the transition at Worth and I told him, `Wait a minute, don’t do anything yet’. For six months I rode around with him to see if I was interested. We have accounts with businesses like banks, insurance companies, convenience stores and family-owned restaurants.
“In 2004 I bit the bullet. I left Worth on a Friday and I was working at the coffee service on Monday. I didn’t miss a day of work.
"I have around 230 businesses I service in a four-county area – Coffee, Franklin, Warren and Lincoln.
“I am a one-man operation and I like it that way. I service the machines. I am at the warehouse to take deliveries of coffee and tea. At night I go home and do the books.”
Tell us about your family.
“My wife’s name is Tammy. We have one son, Derek who is working on his doctorate degree at Southern Mississippi in music performance. He wants to teach on the college level. He also enjoys playing music – the tuba and the euphonium.
“We adopted Derek in 1990 when he was 18 days old. It was one of the three greatest days of my life.”
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org