English professor Jim Karabatsos appreciated fine writing and the turn of a good phrase.
As a former baseball player and coach, he equally appreciated a well-turned double play.
Karabatsos died of heart disease Jan. 28 at Hospice House-The Josie Harper Residence, said daughter Kathy Hansen of Carroll, Iowa. He was 86.
Karabatsos joined Creighton University in 1962 and taught there 30 years. He was chairman of the English department from 1978 to 1981.
His classroom specialties were composition and grammar, history of the English language and American literature, Hansen said. He also wrote several books.
“He recognized and appreciated good writing,” Hansen said, and was an avid reader of “anything that was decent writing.”
Among his favorite authors were Henry David Thoreau (the subject of Karabatsos' doctoral dissertation), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain and William Faulkner, said his daughter.
Before joining CU, Karabatsos taught English and coached baseball and football 10 years at Omaha Central High School.
He had played college basketball and baseball while an undergraduate student at CU. He played minor league baseball while working on his master's degree at Creighton.
That's how Karabatsos came to play for a professional team on opening day — Oct. 17, 1948 — at the former Rosenblatt Stadium.
“The pro team didn't have enough players, so I got a call that day asking if I wanted to play,'' Karabatsos told The World-Herald in a 2010 interview.
He pinch-hit in the game and singled in his only at-bat.
“At the time, I really didn't know how big a deal it was to have had a chance to play in that first game,” Karabatsos said. “To me, it was just another ballgame.
“But now I'm proud that I played in the game.”
Hansen said her father loved sports and loved watching sports, but he never played baseball again once he began teaching. He did, however, referee high school football, she said.
“He influenced a lot of people over the years. We idolized him ourselves,” Hansen said. “You can't put into words how great he was.”
Others did put into words how they felt about Karabatsos. Here are two notes written in his guest book at Omaha.com.
Dale Welch of Richmond, Va.: “Whether as Coach K or Doctor K, may you rest in peace, Jim, with the knowledge that you did make a difference, a huge difference, in so many lives.”
Annette Manzo Gisi of Yuba City, Calif.: “Thank you from all your students. You made every one of us feel like we were special. When in fact, it was you that was special.”
Karabatsos received many professional honors and awards, including CU's Distinguished Service Award in 1990 and the Greater Omaha Sports Committee Service to Sports Award in 1999. He also is a member of Omaha Central's Hall of Fame.
Karabatsos received his bachelor's and master's degrees at Creighton and his doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He grew up in Omaha, graduated from Omaha South High School and served as a medic in the Navy during World War II.
Karabatsos was preceded in death by his wife of 59 years, Lucy.
Besides his daughter, other survivors include daughters Lynn Retter of Omaha, Kristine Salerno of Phoenix and Mary Karabatsos of Omaha; five grandchildren; and three great-grandsons.
A memorial Mass for Jim Karabatsos will begin at 10:30 a.m. today at St. Leo Catholic Church, 1920 N. 102nd St.
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