John Frank Sanders went to be with the Lord on February 3rd, 2022. As a devoted Christian who loved his family and friends, John’s legacy is one of a man with remarkable compassion and humility who touched the lives of many.
Born in Grand Island, Nebraska to the late Esther and Clifford Sanders, John was a little boy with a baseball bat, glove, and his dog who simply grew up with love for the Lord, family, friends, nature and baseball. Grand Island sports, teammates, and friends remained in his heart throughout his life. John was recognized for his athletic achievement as part of the 2015 Grand Island High School Football Hall of Fame, 2019 Grand Island Athletic Hall of Fame, and 2002 Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame. At the conclusion of his high school career, John was honored to be named Athlete of the Year by the Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World Herald for his outstanding performance in baseball, basketball, football, and track. After entertaining college football scholarship offers, John signed a professional baseball contract with Whitey Herzog and the Kansas City Athletics the night of his high school graduation. He played for the Kansas City A’s, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets organizations during his professional playing career.
John graduated with a master’s degree in Economics from the University of Northern Colorado. He began his post playing career teaching business and coaching baseball at Chemeketa Community College in Oregon where players in the upstart program provided cherished memories. He continued teaching and coaching at Arizona Western College and enjoyed and appreciated the many players who committed their talent to the desert Matador program. His dear friend and former Nebraska football Coach Bob Devaney brought John back to coach at Nebraska. With tireless enthusiasm and passion, John brought his love for baseball to the Husker program. Throughout his career at Nebraska, he especially enjoyed hosting baseball camps all across the state. He valued taking the game of baseball to the youth level. During his time coaching the Huskers, John was always grateful and appreciative of the dedication, accomplishments, and respect for the game on the part of each team from the late 1970’s into the 1990’s. John respected all of his players who committed to growing the baseball program that started from a facility that essentially consisted of a backstop and a snow fence. Everyone inclusively played a part in the success of the program as demonstrated by the statistics of the 1980’s in which the teams achieved an overall ranking as the 16th winningest program of approximately 250 Division 1 schools over the decade. The program produced a total of 18 All-Americans including freshman All-Americans. Nearly 100 players went on to sign professional baseball contracts.
John served on the national committee to select the first Olympic baseball team in addition to coaching the USA National Baseball Team with legendary USC baseball coach Rod Dedeaux. Additionally, as part of the program outreach, players participated in a myriad of community service activities. John always emphasized the importance of how each player’s unique contribution worked to make everyone better. A hallmark of Nebraska baseball was the courage and competiveness on the part of all players. John enthusiastically imparted to his players that every day was a great day to play baseball, to work hard and have fun, to always respect the game, to never compromise values and integrity, and to always believe in themselves.
Former Boston Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette brought John back to professional baseball with the Red Sox. His assignments with the Red Sox included managing in the Gulf Coast League in Florida and Instructional League in Florida and Arizona in addition to roving instruction. He also enjoyed special assignments that included instruction at the Red Sox Dominican Republic Academy. John worked as a professional scout at the major and minor league levels for the Boston Red Sox and later for the Los Angeles Dodgers, including advance playoff scouting at the major league level and free agent scouting in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. A competitive baseball challenge was always welcomed and John appreciated playing an instrumental role in trades including the distinguished 2012 multiple player trade between the Red Sox and Dodgers. John loved to analyze the game and along with Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane and Boston Red Sox Senior Advisor Bill James, he was interviewed and cited in the book Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver published in 2012. John was grateful to be part of the historic Boston Red Sox 2004 World Series championship, the 2007 Boston Red Sox World Series championship, and the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers National League championship.
In his youthful years growing up on a family farm, John was rooted in the values that he would carry with him for a lifetime. He enjoyed nature and treasured purple flowers in memory of his mother as he held dear her early faith guidance. John always valued and loved the time he set aside for Bible and devotional reading often while sitting on a backyard bench watching birds with his beloved dogs in his lap. He was a reverent caregiver in every way. He was passionate about his family and known for leaving little loving notes. He devoted his time for all the needs of his family from special small gestures to compassionate listening and caring. With everyone and in everything John was optimistic and believed the right thing would always prevail. Everywhere he went, John’s presence created a kind and lively atmosphere. He often laughed about and celebrated his Irish heritage and his fun loving demeanor was appreciated by his friends and colleagues. He enjoyed conversations with everyone he encountered with a sincere interest in their stories and lives. He believed passionately in recognizing and appreciating the efforts of others. Playing sports in the early years with his father and uncles instilled a competitive spirit that remained with him to always do his best in all endeavors and enabled him to guide others throughout his life. John will be remembered by many for his gift of understanding complicated issues and with his faith as a guide would value what was most important in life. In keeping with his compassionate nature and as a celebration of life memorial, the family encourages those honoring John to contribute and serve where one sees a need.
John’s beloved Immediate family include John’s wife Marilee, daughter Elizabeth Jane and son-in-law John Baker, son John Craig and wife Julie, granddaughters Megan, Ingrid, and Lydia Baker and Lillian Sanders, sisters Susan Sanders and Carolyn Hehnke, sister-in-law Elizabeth and her husband Harold Hansen, nephew Andrew (Scooter) Molander and wife Teresa, niece Elizabeth Sanders, and nieces Karin Hansen and Sarah Hansen Ravel and husband Bill.