My favorite sport was always football.
But, like most any other American boy, I played Little League baseball and I knew a little about the game’s best players. Every American boy my age knew who Babe Ruth was. But, more in our time, there were great players like Johnny Bench, Willie Mays, Brooks Robinson and Hank Aaron that we all knew about and wanted to be like.
I’ll never forget my last year in Little League.
I was a tiny little kid for a good portion of my early life. I had a brother that was a year older and he was huge and at some points in our lives he was maybe twice as big as I was.
They put the scrubs in the outfield in Little League so I was an outfielder. Even back then I knew
that’s where they stick the runts that can’t play and hope that they won’t mess up things too badly if a ball should get out of the infield.
In one particular game, I came up to bat. The opposing pitcher, a bully from the school yards, started smirking when I walked up to the plate. He was a big fat kid and I remember thinking how big of a jerk he was. His face didn’t hold a smirk for long when I drove the ball to the outfield fence and easily got a triple out of it because even though I was a scrub, I had a good set of wheels and could run.
I will never forget his round pouting face the next time I came up to bat and hit off of him again.
This all happened a really long time ago, but I believe it was the very next game that I jacked a home run over the center field fence. The opposing team yelled as I was running by them that I got lucky, but then I shut them up by hitting a double and clearing the bases.
My memory gets foggier every year, but I am pretty sure I never heard another word out of the teams we faced.
Our Little League team was undefeated. The best pitcher on our team had pitched a no hitter in our
very last game. My coach had me in Right Field because apparently he had the same feeling about me as the opposing pitcher with the smirk.
It was the last inning of our very last game and the pitcher had that no hitter going when the batter hit one into the Center Field area. We were winning 9 – 0 and there was little chance of losing, but I ran from my Right Field area and caught the ball on a dead run in Center Field while the Center Fielder must have been looking for ants.
The game was over and we had won in a shut out. The pitcher was the hero and few said much about my big catch even though it was a fairly spectacular catch on a dead run.
Our team was 15 – 0 on the year and I never played baseball again.
Time has a way of slipping away.
My wife was pregnant with our third child and it was about time to head for bed. I was just flipping channels around and came across the first game of the 1988 World Series.
But, something made me stick around. Maybe it was the fact that Kirk Gibson was about to come up to bat and I was a big fan of Gibson as a football player at Michigan State.
I wanted to see what he could do as a baseball player, I guess, so I stuck around and even then I had to admit that it was pretty fascinating.
The Oakland A’s were leading the Los Angeles Dodgers 4 – 3 in the bottom of the 9th inning and the Dodgers had 2 outs with a runner on 1st base.
Up to bat was Kirk Gibson with 2 bad legs.
The A’s had their ace closer Dennis Eckersley on the mound. As baseball tends to be, this couldn’t just happen right away. It’s got to be drawn out, so I just kept watching as Dennis Eckersley kept throwing pitches and Kirk Gibson kept hanging in there. There was a runner named Mike Davis on 1st base and to put himself in better scoring position Davis stole second base.
Dramatically, the pitch count got to 3 – 2. This was a movie in the making and I was watching it unfold before my very eyes. It would turn into one of the most famous Home Runs of all time
when Kirk Gibson connected with the pitch and drove it out of the park. Gibson ran around the bases pumping his fist and I was instantly a baseball fan again. That was one of the coolest and most clutch things I had ever seen.
But, what initially made me watch the ending of this game was my memory of Kirk Gibson playing Wide Receiver for Michigan State back in the 1970s.
Gibson was a 1st team All American in 1978 when he caught 42 passes for 806 yards and 7 Touchdowns. He also ran for 53 more yards on 7 carries and scored 2 more Touchdowns.
Gibson was 6-3, 215 and according to an NFL scout, supposedly Gibson could run in the 4.2 range in the 40 yard dash. That would be extremely hard to prove, but Gibson was fast. He was big, strong, fast and very physical.
He caught 112 over a four year football career at Michigan State which is not overly impressive.
Some receivers catch that many passes in a single season, but these were different times and players just did not have the stats that they do in today’s times.
With the advice of his coach, Gibson played baseball his junior year at Michigan State.
Gibson hit for a .390 batting average and 16 Homeruns and 52 RBIs in 48 games. Not too bad considering Kirk Gibson hadn’t played college ball before.
He was drafted by baseball’s Detroit Tigers in the 1st round and then by the St Louis Cardinals in the 7th round for football.
The NFL backed off of Gibson because of circumstances I am not willing to write about in this particular blog.
Needless to say, Kirk Gibson chose baseball and it was a good choice for him. Gibson played 17 years in the Major Leagues and was MVP of the league and the World Series. He had a career .268 batting average and hit 255 Home Runs and 870 Runs Batted In.
He had two injured legs when he hit that monumental Home Run to win the game for the Dodgers, but the man could run before that.
He began and ended his career with his favorite team, the Detroit Tigers. In between, he played for 3 other teams.
After he retired, he went into managing baseball teams.
Kirk Gibson clearly chose the right path with baseball, but he sure was fun to watch as a college football player at Michigan State.
Watching Gibson play baseball made me wish I had stuck with the game a little bit longer.