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.
And for Ken Griffey, Sr., a man who just four years ago was diagnosed with prostate cancer, this is definitely great news.
Fully recovered and feeling strong, the elder Griffey has joined other sport legends Len Dawson, Rod Woodson, Jim Kelly and (one of my personal favorites) Ozzie Smith in the Depend Campaign to End Prostate Cancer, a movement which educates the public on this important men’s health issue.
By sharing his own personal story, Griffey, Sr. hopes to help quell this potentially devastating disease. “I was diagnosed early. To me, that’s the most important thing: to get diagnosed early. Because then there’s treatment and it’s pretty much curable.”
Griffey was fortunate enough to know this before he was diagnosed, so the fight against the disease began long before he actually acquired it.
“My doctor explained to me that I was a strong candidate for it because of the fact that it was in my family. I had four uncles that passed from prostate cancer. My doctor was very cautious about it, making sure that with each physical I was tested for it.”
Today, not only is Griffey, Sr. spreading the message against prostate cancer, he’s also living life to the fullest, working every day as the hitting coach for the minor league Dayton Dragons, and reflecting on his own illustrious Major League career.
“Getting the opportunity to play with Junior, hitting the back-to-back homeruns with Junior, being world champions with the Cincinnati Reds… those are the major highlights of my career.”
In light of his son’s recent retirement from baseball, when asked about how long it took for Senior to transition he replied: “It didn’t take me long!”
Of course, Senior’s was a decision forced by injury. “For Junior, it was a decision based on the fact that he wasn’t getting the opportunity to play. He sat out for ten games or something like that. We had talked about it last winter. We discussed it. And I think he felt pretty good about the idea of coming home to be with the family.”
And as one legend leaves the game, a new sensation potentially takes his place in Stephen Strasburg. Not since Ken Griffey, Jr. came up in 1989 has there been more buzz about a rookie phenom than there is right now about Strasburg.
“Yeah, that’s exactly right. When Junior came into the league, everyone wanted to see him play.”
Did they ever. One would have to be from another planet to not know how colossally good Junior’s career was, how he became an idol for the masses, how he used class and composure to solidify his future place in the Hall of Fame.
Indeed, Strasburg has a long way to go. But Ken Griffey, Sr. does see the potential: “From what I’ve seen, he has a tremendous career ahead of him… if he stays healthy.”
Then, with a deep-hearted chuckle reminiscent of one who has overcome adversity and seen baseball legends come and go, Senior said:
“I’ve seen him on T.V. But I couldn’t tell you much about how he pitches unless I face him.”
Ken Griffey, Sr. has faced an obstacle or two before. And I’m pretty sure that if he strapped on the cleats today, he’d still have plenty of fight in him.
For more information on how you can join Ken Griffey, Sr. in the fight against prostate cancer, please visit the Depend website.
(by Jeffery Lung)
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Special thanks to Kristin Adams from Taylor PR for arranging the interview with Ken Griffey Sr.
This was the first time I ever spoke to a baseball legend on the phone, so to say I was excited about it doesn’t quite relay just how excited I was. Think Erin-Andrews-in-my-living room-like excited.