He was done watching professional baseball. In his mind, the sport had become all about the money, and that disgusted him.
Mike Kaffee grew up a Yankees fan, and that’s an understatement. He was a full-fledged, obsessed follower who knew the lineups like the back of his hand. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra – he knew them all. But while attending college in 1962 at Michigan State University, he began to notice what he felt was a change in the players’ motivation, and he didn’t like it.
“I said to myself, ‘These guys are not for the team, they’re for the buck,’” Kaffee said. “At that point, I lost total interest in Major League Baseball.”
And just like that, the one-time Yankees superfan gave up on the sport he loved and lost interest in all other professional sports as a whole.
Fast forward over 50 years later, and Kaffee, 73, is arguably the University of Miami baseball team’s biggest fan. He hasn’t missed a single home game at Mark Light Field since purchasing season tickets in 2002. He sits in the same spot each and every game – in the bleachers behind home plate – where he analyzes and tracks every play on his printed scorecard. And if that wasn’t enough, he listens to the university’s student radio broadcast through his headset while he watches.
Suffice it to say, he is what people would call a true fan. But, how did Kaffee go from giving up on professional baseball to being so passionate about college baseball?
He says it was by accident.
Kaffee was in the Air Force for 20 years after college, where he eventually became a navigator. He started dating a woman he was stationed with in North Dakota, and when she got assigned to Key West, Kaffee decided to follow her. He went to the nearest Air Force base.
“I called up my Air Force military personnel and told them that they owed me, and they said ‘Yes we do,’” said Kaffee, who requested to be relocated to Homestead.
Homestead was a fighter base and Kaffee worked in heavy aircraft, but his personnel told him if the wing commander accepted him, that they’d let him go. They did, and Kaffee traveled to South Florida. After retiring from the military in 1986, he chose to use his background to become a cop, specifically a security police commander.
Then, in 2001, Kaffee’s life changed forever.
“One day, one of the guys said ‘Hey, why don’t you come to a ball game?’ and I said, ‘I don’t want to see the Marlins, they suck, they’re terrible.’” Kaffee said. “My friend said ‘No no no, the University of Miami.’ I was surprised. I asked, ‘they have a baseball team that’s decent?’”
Turns out, UM had one of the best programs in the country.
“They were top-notch, but I just wasn’t following them at the time,” Kaffee said. “First game I went to, the guy we were sitting next to said, ‘The game is never over until the final out.’”
Kaffee kept that in mind. During the game, he saw his first triple play. Then, in the game’s most pivotal moment, there was a Miami player on first and second base, and the Hurricanes were down by two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Next thing he knew, a walk-off home run.
“I said ‘You gotta be kidding me,’ and I was hooked,” Kaffee said. “I signed up for season tickets the following year, and I’ve been going to games ever since. From 2002, I said, ‘College baseball is where it’s at.’
Kaffee is now retired and lives in Key Largo, and he makes the one-hour drive to Coral Gables for every ball game. After the game is finished, he usually reaches home after 11 p.m. That’s when he writes his post-game report, which he sends out to an email list of around 110 people, sometimes at around 2 or 3 a.m.
Kaffee has always liked to write, and he says he has developed such a passion for the sport that he gets totally involved in the analysis and enjoys himself in the process. He has developed a consistent group of readers through word-of-mouth. Readers find his report not only fun but also insightful.
Former WVUM sports director Harry Kroll says the recaps are very helpful because it is where many broadcasters get some of their notes to use for the play-by-play call.
“It’s astonishing, it never ceases to blow me away,” Kroll said. “He has an outlet, and he’ll rip players and coaches on it.”
Kaffee is very opinionated in his analyses and is often brutally honest on how he feels about the team and the decision-making during the game.
“I just enjoy watching my favorite players coming up to bat and performing, and it frustrates me when they don’t,” Kaffee said. “I know when they’re having their good days and their bad days, and I’m just more involved with the players now than I’ve ever been before.”
Kaffee has thoroughly immersed himself in the environment at Mark Light: he has not only built relationships with the players – many of them know Kaffee on a first-name basis – but also with the families and the media at the ballpark.
“You see the same faces here all the time,” Kaffee said. “That’s what makes Mark Light special, you always see the same people sitting here. They know this is where I sit. They will leave this seat alone.”
Kroll said he would never forget his interactions with Kaffee, as well as the impact Kaffee made on student broadcasters. Kaffee is known to constantly support the student work and provide feedback.
“Mike was far and away the biggest spirit in baseball and UM student radio that I saw in my four years at UM,” Kroll said. “We got along really well. I always looked forward to seeing him and talking to him. He never forgot to give me thoughtful measures of constructive criticism, and I really appreciated that as a student broadcaster. I always knew I would have at least one listener.”
Kaffee’s daughter, Nikki, is not much of a baseball fan, but she sees the positive effects the sport has had on both his life and the lives around him.
“I was incredibly concerned with how my dad would acclimate to retirement,” Nikki Kaffee said. “But thanks to UM baseball, he found a passion that is undeniable and unrelenting. He discovered a fascination with the players, the families and the actual game to make it an overall experience every time he attends a game.”
Both Kaffee and his daughter admit that the sport could sometimes get in the way of other aspects of life.
“I schedule my life around baseball,” Kaffee said. “My daughter lives in Los Angeles, and she will say, ‘Dad, come and visit.’ I say, ‘Not during baseball season.’ From November to May, forget about it.”
Regardless, this does not harm their relationship. The two talk every week, often after baseball games.
“While I may roll my eyes often when he tries to share his emotions about the game that day, I am very happy for him that he’s so excited about something,” his daughter said. “We should all have something we are passionate about because it awakens our soul and ignites us with happiness. And when my dad is happy, then I am happy.”
So the question is, will he ever stop this streak? And if so, when?
“Until the body breaks down and I can’t make the drive,” he said with a smile. “If they can put my ashes on the pitcher’s mound, I’d be very happy.”