Goose Gossage and the Grassroots Game

 
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I’ve had the good fortune of a long and enjoyable career in baseball. Over the course of 33 years, I have met many people from all walks of life who share my passion for the game.

During my first season with the Yankees in 1989, general manager Bob Quinn made a key waiver claim on August 10. We were not a great team and his pickup had nothing to do with how we would finish the season. However for me, it was the start of a 30-year friendship with a guy whose love for the grassroots game is unparalleled. Goose Gossage was returning to the South Bronx, a dozen years after signing for the first time during the winter of 1977.

The right-hander with the menacing stare and Fu Manchu mustache, relied on a blistering fastball to devastate hitters for more than two decades, earning the reputation as one of baseball’s most durable and successful relief pitchers. The nine-time All-Star was rewarded for his career excellence with his election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 2008.

His respect for the game is profound and his passion was seeded growing up in the mountains of Colorado Springs, CO. “I fell in love with baseball when I was eight years old,” Gossage told me. “I still remember the smell of my first leather glove. Growing up, I had a dream of playing in the big leagues. My dad would always say I was going to be there someday, but deep down, I just didn’t believe it could happen. Well, it did, and it all started at the grassroots level. Some of my greatest memories of Little League rival any of those I experienced as a big leaguer, believe it or not. They were so special and they are still vivid.”

Baseball is a game that teaches important skills and life lessons. Youngsters who start playing at an early age stand to benefit sooner than other kids their age. Perseverance and accepting failure are two examples.

“Baseball is the hardest game on the planet to play,” said Gossage during a Grassroots Baseball giveback program at the Union League Boys & Girls Club of Chicago. “There’s nothing else in life where you can fail seven times out of 10 times and still be a star. Baseball is a game of perseverance, just like life itself. When you play, you learn how to deal with failure, which directly correlates with how much success you will have.

“The beauty of the game is that it parallels life in many ways. I tell parents all the time that whether or not your kid makes it to the big leagues is irrelevant. It’s about the journey and what the game teaches you. Even if you don’t make the big leagues, you are going to be a better person with anything else you pursue, because of baseball.”

Some 35 young boys and girls, many of whom had never put on a glove or thrown a baseball, were suddenly being enlightened by Goose’s life lessons. Each received an authentic Rawlings glove, baseball, pouch of Big League Chew and the opportunity to play catch with a Hall of Famer, one who laced up his spikes for both the White Sox AND the Cubs.

“I played catch today with a young man named Daniel, who had never thrown or caught a ball before,” said Gossage with a smile. “I was afraid I was going to give him a fat lip because it was all new to him! Within 10 minutes this kid was catching and throwing the ball. I talked with him afterward and said, ‘You can be a heck of a baseball player,’ and I meant it. His eyes lit up. His big brother told me he had never seen him play catch, and even commented on how good his brother had become during the short amount of time we played. The grassroots game will always be near and dear to my heart.”

The Hall of Famer still makes his home in Colorado Springs and is active in the community promoting and sponsoring youth sports. In 1995, the city dedicated the Rich "Goose" Gossage Youth Sports Complex, which features five fields for youth baseball and softball competition. “The grassroots game will always be near and dear to my heart,” said Gossage.

Gossage will join the Grassroots Team in June, in Missouri, as the Route 66 Tour continues.

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