Team Sports: My Lifelong Passion

Something about team names, uniform colors, team logos and the mascots has always interested me. Add in the back stories, the behind the scenes details, history of a particular franchise, records, folklore, and stats and I am hooked.

Growing up in Northeast Oklahoma, home of Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, Steve Owens, Willie Stargell, the Selmon Brothers, sports was just an accepted everyday part of life. Back in the 30-40's, the Dust Bowl years, so many "Okies" (slang term worse than today's "rednecks" label) headed west to California to find a new existance. Those hearty few that stayed behind, worked hard to sustain a meager existance and often felt the shame not having much more to their name than the love of family. This atmospher of guilt that many Oklahoman's lived with, with no pride in their state or themselves was exhausting until a trio of events helped shape our road to recovery.

First, the hit play on Broadway titled "Oklahoma" helped the east coast to recognize us for more than dirt poor farmers of wind blow,n barren wheat fields. Second, Bud Wilkinson and the University of Oklahoma Sooners football team with their remarkable winning streak earning many national titles, and finally, Mickey Mantle playing for the Yankees launched an average Okie into the media spotlight. Just like when the Beatles sparked the English invasion, thus was the Mantle and the Sooner invasion.

This backdrop was the accepted plight of this young Oklahoma boy growing up in the 60's when I started to discover and follow sports, particularly team sports. In 1967, I was 9 years old and just recognizing my boyish ambitions towards being a athlete. My father was an extremely good catcher for the fast pitch softball national power house Phillips 66'ers and traveled throughout the southwest catching two hall of fame pitchers for many years. One of my strongest childhood memories was the thrill of was seeing Merl Gougler, my dad, hit a home run to right field and I out-raced all the other kids to retrieve the ball and return it for a snow-cone. He was even invited to try out for the Kansas City Athletics and was doing well until he broke his thumb.

Growing up in poor Ochelata, Oklahoma, literally it only had one stop sign on Main Street, I remember my dad's father being a very funny, hard working man with many children for which he provided the best he could. They literally lived in a tar paper shack, with one bedroom, kitchen, one big living room with a potbelly stove in the middle, and outhouse out back. This was the environment in which my sports passion began. The 1967 World Series, between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Soxs, watching the games with Grandpa, Dad, and my uncles on the huge 18" black and white TV around the stove. Being that my hometown Tulsa Oilers (Pacific Coast League) were the AAA affiliate for the St. Louis team, all the more reason to have strong support for our Redbirds.

The World Series was a 7 game nail biter, featuring awesome pitching from MVP Bob Gibson, Boston's Jim Lonborg, hitting from stars such as Lou Brock, Roger Maris, Carl Yastrzemski, Elston Howard, Tim McCarver and rookie pitcher Steve Carlton. Thus, the spark for the fire that to this day still flames up each year during the baseball season. Many baseball, football, and basketball cards later, and every Issue of Sporting News and Sports Illustrated devoured, baseball game of the week every Saturday, and of course our beloved Sooners on the radio and the ABC football game of the weeks vs Nebraska or Texas as shaped the ideological passion I have for team sports.

I look forward to sharing some background on some of the teams, players, leagues and characters that shaped my love for sports in general.


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