Saturday, April 9, 2011

My First Sports Hero

Given the title my bet is that most of the people that know me would guess Jim Ryun.  That guess would be wrong.  My passion for sports came late as a boy.  I could be wrong but I think most little boys develop an awareness of sports and the men that play them by age four or five, certainly no later than six.

I can clearly remember when that part of my being awakened.  It was in the spring of 1965.  I was nine years old but fairly obliviously to college and professional sports.  The first sports event I actually watched from beginning to end on television was a basketball game.  Kansas hosted Nebraska at Allen Field House and the Jayhawks hit triple digits against the Huskers that night.  That team may have been the best one Ted Owens coached during his tenure at K.U.

The squad was talented with All American Walt Wesley and Jo Jo White. That same team lost to eventual NCAA champions Texas Western in double overtime 81 to 80.  I remember sitting in front of the TV set crying.  I was hooked on sports.

But it took another six months for an individual athlete to completely capture my imagination.  It was because he was left handed like me.  But it was what he did for his team during the 1965 World Series that made him my hero.
Sandy Koufax led his team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, to victory in the 1965 World Series over the Minnesota Twins.  He did it with an overpowering fastball and a nasty curveball and in this day and age of pitch counts, he did it on two days rest.  There's more to this part of his legacy but I'll let you look it up for yourself.

I read everything I could find about Koufax.  It lead to my purchase of a 1964 baseball All Star baseball book that opened my eyes to other greats like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Mickey Mantle.  It was an incredible awakening. 

Much to my anguish, I got to follow my hero for only one more season.  His left elbow couldn't take the punishment of 300 innings a year anymore and so following the 1966 season the great Koufax retired at age 32.  But Koufax had opened my eyes to the world of sports.  And a Christmas gift in 1966 in the form of a subscription to Sports Illustrated only widened my view.

Sandy Koufax is still a hero of mine.  There are several biographies about him but read Jane Leavy's book written in 2003 called, Sandy Koufax:  A Lefty's Legacy.  He's what a sports hero should be, a good man, a man with principles.  And he's certainly one of the greatest pitchers to ever toe the mound.

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