• Aaron Ferguson

Lofton shares life lessons at Lakeshore Classic luncheon

East Chicago native Kenny Lofton speaks at the Lakeshore Classic luncheon at the Majestic Star Casino in Gary on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. (Aaron Ferguson, The Times)

GARY — Kenny Lofton left East Chicago in hopes that he would make his family and the Region proud and, on Tuesday, he returned to share highlights of his career and the lessons he learned.

Lofton played for both the Cubs and White Sox during 17 seasons in Major League Baseball. He was a five-time All-Star, and is one of two people to play in the NCAA basketball Final Four and the World Series. He acknowledged at the Lakeshore Classic luncheon Tuesday at the Majestic Star Casino that fellow EC Washington alum Tim Stoddard is the other.

But “all see my glory but they don’t understand my story,” which starts in East Chicago, where he was raised by his grandmother.

“(She) gave me the love and support and understanding and the guidance of how to be a man,” he said in front of several hundred people. “And that’s something that pushed me forward and gave me the understanding of how to treat others, respect what you have and cherish what you have and don’t take advantage of it and don’t take advantage of other people.”

His grandmother shaped who he was and was something he was reminded of by his Cleveland Indians hitting coach and eventual manager, Charlie Manuel.

“Charlie Manuel always told us, and it works in the business world and a corporate world, ‘If you know who you are as an individual, that’s who you stick. His motto was ‘Know thyself’. If you know who you are as an individual, it will help you move forward in what you’re trying to accomplish,” Lofton said.

Of course, Manuel said that in a baseball sense. Lofton never hit more than 15 home runs in a single season but was an elite hitter and base stealer, leading the league five times in stolen bases and totaling 622 for his career. Manuel’s motto meshes with Lofton’s believe that there is an ‘I’ in team.

“If I do my job, it helps the team. So there is an ‘I’ in team,” Lofton said. “That’s the attitude I took in baseball and now I’m trying to do it in the corporate world.”

Lofton left East Chicago with a basketball scholarship to go to the University of Arizona, where he earned a TV and film degree, fulfilling a promise to his grandma. He worked out with the baseball team and was drafted by the Houston Astros in 1988 and returned to his love.

“If it wouldn't have been for basketball getting me to that area of Arizona I probably wouldn't have been in the situation I am today,” Lofton told The Times. “So Northwest Indiana basketball is awesome, and it still is, and it's something that I'll always be a proud of but baseball became my life.”

He has given back to the community, often speaking to kids and donating money for Kenny Lofton Field in East Chicago to the Little League programs he played in.

His uncle Earl played catch with him, beginning at 2 years old, and with a right-handed glove on the wrong hand (since he threw left handed). He treasured his family’s support, with many members on hand Tuesday. He emphasized his faith in God, the importance of being a member of Kappa Alpha Psi and urged parents to be present in their children’s lives to empower them to accomplish their dreams.

“You always have to say (to adults) the kids need your support because they need that backing, love and support to know that someone is there for them,” Lofton said.

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