Wichita State needed an outfielder, and Don Lambert needed to be near his grandfather in Kiowa.
The circumstances worked out perfectly for both, and Lambert transferred from Baylor to WSU in August. An NCAA waiver made him eligible immediately. He intended to study, play baseball and help with his grandfather, suffering from prostate cancer.
His grandfather, Harvey L. Mathews, died Monday at 89.
"I wanted to be closer to him," Lambert said. "I thought I'd be here awhile longer with him."
Lambert, from St. Louis, spent parts of his summer vacation and holidays on his grandfather's ranch near Kiowa, a town about 90 miles southwest of Wichita. Mathews was a baseball fan who traveled to games in St. Louis, Arizona and Florida when Lambert was younger.
"We got along great," Lambert said. "He worked on that ranch almost his entire life. He was an active guy up until (a few years ago), being outside, riding horses, doing all sorts of stuff."
His death is a sad twist to the story, but it hasn't changed Lambert's desire to be at WSU. He started 18 games as a redshirt freshman at Baylor and seven as a sophomore. He will have two seasons of eligibility at WSU.
"Since I've been here, I've enjoyed it," he said. "They've accepted me pretty well and I feel like I fit in pretty well."
Lambert comes with a reputation as a speedy outfielder with good defensive skills. He thinks he will contribute with his bat , as well. He hit .222 last season at Baylor in 27 at-bats.
"I've always believed in my talent," he said. "Speed and defense, I know what I can do. Hitting-wise, it's kind of taken off and I'm hitting the ball consistently."
Lambert played 18 games with WSU first baseman Johnny Coy with the St. Joseph Mustangs this summer. He said he gained confidence and ended on a high note by going .381 with a home run and a triple in five NBC World Series games.
"Just getting out and playing every day and having a little bit of success and then it goes from there," he said.
WSU coach Gene Stephenson was thrilled to pick up Lambert in August. The Shockers lost three outfield starters to graduation and junior-college transfer Scott Schebler signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It's too early in practice for Stephenson to know exactly what he's got in Lambert. So far, the results are encouraging.
"He has a great makeup," Stephenson said. "He runs well. He should be a good hitter. He should be a good defensive outfielder. At first observance, there's no glaring weakness. But we have to wait until we see more of him, and how he handles himself in intrasquads."
Former Shocker passes away — Ron Washington, Wichita State's leading scorer in 1967-68, died on Aug. 22 and services were held six days later in Irvington, N.J.
Washington, a 6-foot-6 forward, scored 1,013 points in four injury-shortened seasons from 1965-69. Known as "Slim," Washington ranks as one of WSU's best shooters.
"He was a good scorer and a good shooter, and he wasn't hesitant," teammate Ron Mendell said. "He was a good teammate."
Washington's off-the-court life is more interesting than his basketball experiences. According to his Web site (ronslimwashington.com), he became a revolutionary student and worker activist in the 1960s. He said he founded the Black Student Union at WSU, leading to a lifetime of activism. In 2000, he worked for Verizon and founded the Black Telephone Workers for Justice.
Washington , from Chicago, averaged 19.3 points and 8.2 rebounds as a junior and 20.6 points and 10.3 rebounds as a senior. As a junior, he led WSU in scoring, shooting percentage (48.3) and free throw percentage (83.3).
Worth nothing — Ryan Engrav, who played the outfield and catcher for WSU, has transferred to Newman. Engrav played in four games last season as a junior. He earned MVP honors in the 2009 MVC Tournament.... Former Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Mickey Holmes died Wednesday in St. Louis. Holmes, 72, ran the MVC from 1972 to 1979. He was executive director of the Sugar Bowl from 1979 to his retirement in 1993.... WSU's men's golf team starts its fall season on Monday in the Sam Hall Intercollegiate in Hattiesburg, Miss.