Growing up a kid in America is synonymous with being a dreamer. We’re taught that anything is possible if we’re dedicated, if we work hard. And we often model ourselves after those we look up to, our heroes.
I always had two: my dad, whom I got to see everyday, and St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop, Ozzie Smith. Many a summer afternoon was spent in the backyard… swinging like Ozzie, diving like Ozzie, smiling like Ozzie.
“I want to be Ozzie Smith,” family members recall me saying, “I want to be Number One.”
So what does one say when he finally gets to have a conversation with his boyhood hero?
“My grandpa had Musial. My dad had Gibson and Brock. I had you, Ozzie.”
And Ozzie’s response?
Of course, I expected nothing but the coolest things from the man who gave us reason to Go crazy, folks, go crazy! Heck, it’s been nearly 25 years since that homerun prompted Jack Buck to give us his iconic call, but I promise you this: to a Cardinals fan, it never gets old.
“It never went away,” chuckled a candid Ozzie Smith, “and as a matter of fact, it’s still reverberating today. I have little kids coming up to me, reciting that. So yeah, it’s pretty cool.”
Indeed it is pretty cool and so is Ozzie Smith, the man: 15 time All-Star, 13 time Gold Glove Award Winner, Hall of Famer and all around good guy.
The seriousness of prostate cancer cannot be overstated. In fact, 1 out of every 6 men will experience the disease, as it is the second-leading cause of male cancer-related deaths in the United States.
“I’m just here to encourage all men 50 or older (40 or older for African-American men and those with a family history of the disease) to get involved, talking with their doctors about prostate health. Because with early detection, prostate cancer isn’t only treatable, it’s beatable.”
As was Ozzie’s signature game plan on the field, the best way to beat this disease is with strong defense. And if anyone knows anything about defense, one need look no further than The Wizard.
After a decade plus of abnormal offensive numbers in baseball, Ozzie sees the current renaissance of pitching and defense themed ball-clubs as a natural, cyclical part of the game.
“It’s the way the game is supposed to be played. You can get a lot more out of playing the game the proper way than just building your team from an offensive standpoint.”
If you’re looking for an example of such managerial strategy, Ozzie suggests we look at those teams at the top.
“The Atlanta Braves in the East, I think they’re one of those teams. Not a whole lot of power, but they certainly do the little things that it takes to win. The Cardinals have always been one of those teams that have done that and I think it’s part of what’s allowed the Cincinnati Reds to lead their division this year.”
Such game theory often begins with the manager and Ozzie Smith was lucky enough to serve under one of the best, one of this summer’s Hall of Fame inductees: Whitey Herzog.
“As a manager, the goal is always to make players better than they are. Whitey was certainly one of those people. The relationship we had was of admiration and respect. A good manager, like Whitey, only has two rules: be on time and give a hundred percent. As a professional athlete, that’s all you can ask, to be given the opportunity to do what it is you do. If you can’t abide by those rules, then you shouldn’t be playing.”
And as we gear up for the 2010 All-Star Game in Anaheim, it’s a pretty safe bet that the players involved abide by those rules. One cannot be the best without giving his best. As a 15 time All-Star himself, Ozzie was quite comfortable being at the top of his game. When asked to describe his fondest All-Star memories, he was quick to answer.
“The first one I had a chance to go to in 1981 and then my final one in 1996, those two really stand out. The first one simply because of the excitement of going to your first All-Star Game and the festivities, the lockering, visiting with guys you admired from afar and played against, having a chance to play with them was very special. Then the reception I received in Philadelphia for my final one was very, very special.”
Yep. It sure was. In fact, I fondly remember… crying. I was 17 years old, my hero was retiring and I was morbidly afraid of baseball without Ozzie.
But I quickly learned: no one can take away memories, no one can take away dreams. The game continued on and Ozzie never really went away. The moments he created are remembered today. His work ethic is passed down. His desire to help those in need, to educate, to make life better wherever possible through public service, as he’s doing with the Depend Campaign, all these things make him forever an All-Star.
Forever a hero.
Forever a reason to go crazy, folks.
Written by Jeffery Lung
Special thanks to
Kristin Adams of Taylor PR for arranging the interview.
Click *HERE* to read Jeff’s interview with Dave Winfield.
to read Jeff’s interview with Ken Griffey, Sr.