They say at the end of a man’s life, it’s not so much about what he has as much as the lives he has touched. Bob Kitzmiller died Monday morning, the richest man in town.
Kitzmiller, recently retired as assistant general manager of the Danville Braves, was 66.
Kitzmiller began his work with the Braves in February of 1997. In an interview from last August, Kitzmiller talked about his first year with the Braves. A new stadium was being built for the Braves’ Carolina League entry and the ‘A’ League team had to share American Legion Post 325 field with the Danville Braves. Kitzmiller was responsible for keeping all the uniforms washed and ready for both teams as well as towels and all the other particulars that went along with the job description.
Kitzmiller spoke about that task in the August interview. “There were over 100 games played here that summer,” said Kitzmiller. “A lot of nights I slept on the training table, because by the time I got home it would be time to come back. My son Blake was bat boy and he loved it but I wondered a little bit if I had made a mistake.”
If it was a mistake, it took him 19 years to figure it out. In 2001, Kitzmiller left the training table behind, moving into a front office role as Assistant General Manager for the Danville Braves in charge of sales. The clubhouse position was left to Bill ‘Tiny’ Setliff. Setliff said he and Kitzmiller were much closer than co-workers.
“Bob was like my brother,” said Setliff. “He was mentor to so many people, especially me. They don’t come any better than Bob. He helped so many people from school to daily life. He will be truly missed in this community for helping others. This ballpark and the people who come here will miss him.”
David Cross, Braves General Manager, talked about the close working relationship between he and Kitzmiller. “I learned a lot from him just like I did from my Dad,” said Cross. “He helped me in my growth as a man. He was very good with the young players that came here, away from home for the first time. He had an innate ability to know when they needed something. He and I were like good cop, bad cop. I would reprimand a player for something he had done and Bob would come along behind me and smooth it out.”
The ballpark was important to Kitzmiller. Kitzmiller believed Cross was instrumental in keeping the team in Danville. “Dave came in here and took over the team when it was in jeopardy of being moved,’ said Kitzmiller. “He has worked hard with the city to make improvements to the facilities and we have a top notch ball park. I wish more people would take advantage of it.”
Kitzmiller felt the ball park matched the organization. “I think Atlanta is the top organization in Major League Baseball in my opinion,” said Kitzmiller. “I think they do a great job with evaluation of the players they draft and they are just as concerned about a young man’s character as they are about his ability. We have had very few problems here because of it.”
Kitzmiller saw several major leaguers begin their careers in the River City. He recalled the names of Adam Wainwright, Jeff Francouer, Jason Marquis, Jason Heyward, Adam LaRoche and Rafael Furcal. Kitzmiller said Furcal’s English when he arrived in Danville consisted of, “A slice and a Coke.”
He laughed about kids being kids like the time players got a hold of the suit worn by the Braves’ mascot Blooper. “One night I was in the clubhouse and I heard the door slam open and fur flying everywhere,” said Kitzmiller. The fur belonged to Blooper. Some of the players had taken the suit and spread Icy Hot inside it in some of the more sensitive areas according to Kitzmiller.
Kitzmiller also remembered one night when he came out of the office between one and two a.m. because of a lot of noise in the outfield. “I turned the field lights on and some of our players were having a party,” said Kitzmiller. “They didn’t stay long after those lights came up.”
Before beginning his career with the Braves, Kitzmiller spent several years involved in youth sports throughout the Danville community. He served many years as soccer coach, basketball coach and athletic director at Sacred Heart School. He served on the boards of Danville Little League and Chatham Youth League. He officiated basketball, baseball and soccer games for over 30 years.
Tom Dalton worked many years with Kitzmiller coaching at Sacred Heart. “His gentle demeanor with the kids was always positive and comforting on and off the court and field,” said Dalton. “I could not have asked God to send me a better person to work with or call friend than Bob Kitzmiller. If Bob Kitzmiller knew you, you had a true friend forever.”
Kitzmiller regretted his decision to retire from the Braves, but knew it was his best option. “It’s hard to step away because I love it, but its time,” said Kitzmiller, his voice breaking. “I have grandkids starting into sports and Deborah (Kitzmiller’s wife) and I want to travel,” he said.
Services have not been confirmed at this time and we ask that you keep his wife Deborah, his four children, two stepchildren, and numerous grandchildren in your thoughts at this time.