Keppel was in his second season playing for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters when an 8.9 magnitude earthquake rocked Japan and unleashed a tsunami that triggered a nuclear fallout. Soon after the September 2011 tragedy, Keppel's team played in a charity game in the devastated region of Sendai. Although he was a foreigner in a famously insular country, Keppel was asked to make a pregame speech. It was broadcast throughout Japan.

He recalls standing at the microphone, thinking of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a.k.a. "The Little Flower," a tiny nun whom Catholics revere for trying to do good with even the tiniest acts. He didn't mention her by name that night. ("I'm not a sign-of-the-cross guy" while on the field, he explains.) But he urged the fans to shower the victims with kindness.

"It's in the little things that you do with your families that, put together, will make the biggest difference," he said, his amplified voice bouncing around the stadium. "Whether it's a donation of your time, your money or just a generous smile, no charity is too small."

Co-publishers Suzanne and Bobby Keppel at The 9s launch party in St. Charles.
Steve Truesdell
Co-publishers Suzanne and Bobby Keppel at The 9s launch party in St. Charles.
Matt Holliday on the cover of The 9s first issue.
Steve Truesdell
Matt Holliday on the cover of The 9s first issue.

Keppel and his wife practice what they preach, says Steve Allgeyer, vice president of Life Teen, a Catholic youth ministry in which the Keppels have both been active.

"They're quite possibly the most generous people I know," says Allgeyer. "Not just with their time, but with everything they do."

Although the couple spends most of their time in Japan, they still volunteer in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, prepping engaged couples for marriage and urging natural family planning. They also own several rental properties in St. Louis County, some of which they lease to friends who've fallen on hard times.

It was while making a maintenance call to one of his rental properties last July that Keppel first had an inkling of becoming a publisher. On that day he visited a tenant named Matt Mathison, who had found the place through a realtor service. In the garage of the Mathison residence, Keppel spied a box full of Avid magazines. He picked up a copy and thumbed through it.

"He came over to me, held it up and said, 'What's this?'" recalls Mathison.

Mathison explained the concept of Avid, and his hopes to one day revive the magazine. Keppel was intrigued. Like his real-estate holdings, a magazine seemed like an investment that just might pay off in the long run.

He left with a copy to show Suzanne.

On May 24, 2011, Richard Riney got his wish. A St. Louis County judge froze Avid's assets and halted any further publishing. Dan Michel, the magazine's editor in chief, was present when Mathison heard the news.

"I'd never seen Matt so livid," Michel recalls. "His face was beet red. He just went on and on, mindless cussing and name-calling."

The final two issues of Avid for May and June were completed in digital format but never saw print. Within months the magazine was sued for not paying rent at its office complex. Scorch, a local social-media agency, also filed a lawsuit for an outstanding bill of $8,500.

In the end, Mathison signed a consent judgment in Riney's lawsuit, thereby conceding to counts including fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of fiduciary duty. According to the case file, he still owes Riney more than $200,000. [A correction ran regarding this paragraph; see note at end of story.]

Michel took Mathison to small claims court and settled for $7,000, less than half of which has been paid, he says. Eventually Michel packed up his stuff and moved to New York, hoping he'd heard the last of Mathison.

Then came the release last month of The 9s that included articles Michel had edited during his time at Avid. The former editor couldn't believe his eyes. How could Mathison possibly have founded yet another magazine?

Technically, he didn't. He pitched the idea for another golf magazine to the Keppels, but they felt golf was too restrictive. If they were going to get involved, they wanted to do it their own way and cover sports of all kinds, plus travel, fashion, culture, food and business — all with an eye toward men's self-improvement.

"In the baseball world, I know guys who are different places," Keppel says. "But I've seen how men can influence each other. And I think that morality — in terms of doing good, and thinking of others first — all of us have that in us. So I thought, 'Why can't we have a magazine distributed in St. Louis that helps men be better men?'"

The very first issue of The 9s featured an article on Cardinals star Matt Holliday discussing his Christian faith and an advice column fielding questions such as: "My wife just bought skinny jeans, but they don't fit on her right. How do I tell her without hurting her feelings?" The issue also contained content from Avid contributors whom Mathison had never paid; Keppel had stepped in and made them whole.

"I'm the owner of this business," Keppel explains, adding that Mathison is only a consultant to The 9s. "One of my goals is to give Matt a way to pay back all those people their money. What's the better option? That he just goes to jail and can't support his family and no one ever gets repaid? Those are the choices in my head. I feel like maybe I can help this guy."

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