RIO RANCHO, N.M. — It was a great couple of days last week for the Schuman branch of the Boys & Girls Club here in Rio Rancho.
First, on Tuesday afternoon the kids were excited to see they had a new Toyota passenger van to get them around, whether it’s to a park or a field trip.
The next day, a dozen or so of the locals were taken to Isotopes Park, where (I’m sure) they met a guy they’d never heard of before, but hopefully took a message back to the City of Vision.
As part of the Route 66 Grassroots Baseball Tour, baseball hall of famer Rich “Goose” Gossage was at the ballpark, along with the former president of the hallowed hall, Jeff Idelson, and famed baseball photographer Jean Fruth.
After the interviews — my main reason to be there — with the Goose, Idelson and Fruth were concluded, Gossage headed into the stands on the shaded third-base side of the ballpark to chat with the youngsters.
Since he was inducted in July 2008, it’s highly doubtful any of the youngsters listening to his short talk would be aware of who he is.
In fact, when he talked about growing up in Colorado Springs — he’s the first Colorado native inducted in Cooperstown — he recalled being a Yankees fan and idolizing Mickey Mantle, and realizing when the Chicago White Sox signed him in 1970 that there was no way he’d be able to strike out Mantle.
“There’s no way I can do this,” he remembered thinking, shortly after graduating from high school and being signed by the Sox. “I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, but I’m going to give it my best shot.”
Most of the media — at least me — expected to see a hand go up, followed by, “Um, who is Mickey Mantle?”
Instead, the hilarious question concerned whether or not (Isotopes mascot) Orbit would be there on the field.
Gossage didn’t know who Orbit was, said he’d like to meet him … but Orbit didn’t show.
Much of what Gossage told these kids from Rio Rancho, along with some Albuquerque Boys & Girls Club members, was similar to what he’d told the media, and it didn’t deal as much with baseball as it did with life.
Maybe his message will even last longer with the kids through life than that new van.
“We build from the good, we learn from the bad and we let it go,” he said. “Attitude is everything. Pursue your passion.
“I’m a perfect example. I promised that (July 1970) day I would give it my best shot.”
Of course, it’s hard to do much better than winding up in the hall of fame, not to mention helping the Yankees win the World Series and being remembered as one of the best relievers of all time.
“You can do it,” he urged the kids. “Don’t let anything pass you by,” advising them of the importance of “taking care of the people around you, your friends.”
With school right around the corner, he told them to do well in the classroom, too: “If we don’t study for these tests (in life or school), we’re gonna flunk,” Gossage said.
“Put a lot in, you get a lot out; put a little in, you get a little out.”
Who knew Goose Gossage would be such a great philosopher?
Now, for the real gem: “Good things don’t just happen, they happen for a reason. We’re in charge.”
And then Gossage shook hands or high-fived every boy and girl there, as they headed down to the Isotopes dugout, where each was given a brand-new Rawlings baseball glove and a baseball.
Then came the hard part: Spreading out and playing catch — and there were a few kids who looked like they knew how to throw and catch. And it seemed no media members — or Gossage or Fruth, taking countless photos for her next Grassroots Baseball book— were hit in the session.
These kids may never understand who Mickey Mantle was, or what he once meant to the national pastime, but, hopefully, they’ll remember the Goose — and the new gloves, baseballs and words of wisdom he handed them on a hot day in August 2019.