By Jeff Nations - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Buddy the bull calf thinks he's a horse.
Kevin Anderson, Shenandoah University's baseball coach, tells how the family's adopted orphan calf, Buddy, has so taken up with the resident thoroughbreds at the Anderson family's farm that he seems to believe -- is convinced, really -- that he is, in fact, a horse.
"He won't leave the barn in the morning until he's been brushed," Anderson said. "He'll play with the foals and when they jump, he jumps, too."
Buddy might be on to something, actually. When it comes to the horses (or the 20 chickens, three dogs and a cat, plus Buddy himself) it's first-class treatment all the way at the Anderson's informally named Home Plate Farm.
"It's really a release for me," Anderson said of the farm, which the family purchased about four years ago. "The stresses of coaching, it can drive you crazy if you don't have something else. That's how we utilize it. I'm no good in golf, so I can't do that. It's taught our kids a lot. Those animals depend upon us, and nobody in our family eats breakfast until all the animals are fed. It has really been a good family experience."
That experience includes, but is not limited to, raising thoroughbreds to run at nearby Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races and Slots in Charles Town, W.Va. Currently, Anderson has one runner carrying his silks -- a 5-year-old chestnut gelding named County Minister. That horse is the first of what Anderson plans will be several West Virginia-breds to race out of his fledging breeding operation under veteran trainer James Starkey.
County Minister hasn't won yet in three starts, but for the Andersons -- Kevin and wife Ginger, along with kids Kolton (13), Kooper (11) and Khloe (7) -- the end result isn't nearly as fulfilling as the process of raising their stable of horses. Right now, in addition to County Minister (better known as "Skeeter" at the farm), the Andersons have two mares, a pair of 4-year-old fillies, a yearling, two foals and the 23-year-old matriarch of the farm, Piarco, a foundation mare from the years Kevin Anderson and his father, Lynn, raced horses at Charles Town.
"We always had a horse or two, and a few cows," Anderson said of his childhood. "We were sort of like gentleman farmers, as we are now. My wife was raised on a dairy farm, so she was around cattle.
"My wife and I both have an affinity for animals of all kinds. We love the raising aspect of horses, more so than the racing. But we do realize that racing is where you make the money to try and do all this."
Before Kevin Anderson met Ginger, he partnered with his father as successful owners racing horses at Charles Town. A West Virginia-bred named Glide's Immigrant won 16 races for the Andersons, another named Zen Again won 10 times in one year and yet another, Mostly Irish, won the Sam Palumbo Stakes at Charles Town.
Kevin Anderson got out of the racing business when he married Ginger, but in the back of his mind he always planned to get back into it.
"Without having a great family and a great wife, there's no way we could do it," Anderson said.
Even with every family member pitching in with the work, the Andersons need help around the farm.
They found just the man for the job at Shenandoah, where Bob Stefanowicz played as a right-handed pitcher under Anderson until graduating in 2011. Now the farm manager, Stefanowicz spends his days helping care for the animals and making repairs.
"Kevin's good at breaking stuff," Stefanowicz said. "That don't bother me; it helps me make a dollar."
Stefanowicz takes pride in how far the Home Plate Farm has come in four years, and his part in making that happen. It was Stefanowicz, along with former Hornets teammate Bryce Sears, who rebuilt the barn all those thoroughbreds live in on the farm.
"Bob has been a huge help," Kevin Anderson said.
After graduating with a degree in business from Shenandoah, Stefanowicz soon realized that working outdoors, with his hands, was what he wanted to do for a living. The horse racing has just been an added bonus.
"I've learned a lot from him about horse racing because it was something I was completely blind to," Stefanowicz said. "It's been quite an adventure and I've learned a lot from him."
Despite his semi-rural upbringing -- he would show quarter horses as a boy -- and long years of experience as an owner, Kevin Anderson knows he still has plenty to learn as he continues to build his breeding operation.
"I'm smart enough to ask -- I mean, I'm a novice," Anderson said. "But I love the raising aspect, working with foals. They don't care if we won or lost the day before. I'm in the barn every morning before 6 o'clock, and if I'm not here my wife handles the operation."
Anderson has been hugely successful since taking over Shenandoah's baseball program prior to the 2004 season, never winning fewer than 20 games in a year. In back-to-back seasons, 2009 and 2010, Anderson led Shenandoah to the NCAA Division III College World Series in Appleton, Wis. The Hornets just missed out on another trip to the College World Series this season. Shenandoah was 31-13 overall and finished second in the USA South Conference this past year and reached the NCAA regionals.
The connections between his life on the baseball diamond and in the barn are readily apparent -- the driveway leading to Anderson's home is marked by -- what else? -- home plate anchored securely in the middle. Those twin passions -- baseball and horses -- are all the motivation Anderson requires to put in the long hours required to succeed.
"They're just fascinating animals, and what works for one doesn't work for the other," Anderson said. "It's very similar to working with pitchers or developing players. What works for one doesn't work for another."