He has worked at a school, for a department store and in a
warehouse. He has a wife and four children. But 44-year-old Mike
Peterson never turned a double play in the major leagues, never
played point guard in the NBA and never picked off an NFL pass.
"So wherever I've been," he says, "people tend to ask the same
thing: You were on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. What the
heck are you doing here?"
It was a blessing and a curse, being tagged KANSAS SCHOOLBOY
MARVEL. On the bright side, it brought attention to the
Mayberryesque town of Yates Center (pop. 2,178 in 1971), where
the 5'10", 155-pound Peterson was a self-effacing three-sport
prodigy at Yates Center High. On the downside, expectations for
Peterson suddenly grew sky-high. "The same week the article came
out I was at a camp in Colorado, and everyone there wanted to
play me one-on-one in basketball," he says. "If they did well,
they asked why they weren't on the cover. It was as if I was
supposed to be the world's greatest athlete."
Peterson was merely a very good athlete in a very small town,
which was the point of the SI story. Despite batting .398,
scoring 21.2 points per game and intercepting nine passes as a
senior, he was ignored by major-college recruiters. Peterson
wound up playing centerfield and point guard at nearby Kansas
State Teachers College, in Emporia, quitting basketball after
his freshman year to concentrate on reaching the bigs. "If I'd
known then that I wouldn't make it in either of the sports,"
Peterson says, "I would've stuck with both and just had as much
fun as possible."
In 1976 he signed with the Seguin (Texas) Toros, a short-lived
independent-league baseball team. The next year--faced with "the
reality of not making it," Peterson says--he returned to
Emporia, earned his education degree and has remained in Kansas
ever since. He taught for a year in the Olathe school district,
managed a J.C. Penney distribution center in Lenexa for a decade
and now is a warehouse coordinator in Overland Park for a
company that makes novelties and snacks. He has two daughters,
Nicole, 16, and Amanda, 10, and two stepdaughters, Christy, 25,
and Michelle, 22. He has been married to Jane, his second wife,
for two years.
February 23, 1998
"I always felt like I could've done more," says Peterson, whose
only athletic pursuit these days is golf. "If I scored 25
points, I'd still walk away knowing it should've been better.
Back in high school I really thought I was going to be a
professional athlete. It used to bother me that I didn't become
one. Now, I'm more at peace."
He was merely a very good athlete in a very small town.