College Ball: The National Championship
The Game Lives Forever, The Stories Never End
We all have those special days, games,events, that each of us have experienced. Like one of mine during the NAIA National Championship in 1968 in St Joseph Mo. Having been a set up man for the season for Stonum, Coach Flook decided to start me for the game that would have cinched the championship against Georgia Southern. They didn't have a book on me so Coach knowing I started in summer ball , gave me the ball to get us the win. He said give me 4-5 innings. Well we were leading 4-1 in the 3rd, maybe 4th( their goes my memory) when I went to the mound and got out of my zone. Finally noticed the 5,000 people in the stands. I started throwing softballs to the plate, seeing my outfielders numbers on their backs as balls bounced off the walls. Coach came out said, " Super, (that is what he called me) what happened"? I said "Coach, I just noticed the crowd." Left that inning down 5-4, but we won the next night for the National Championship.
I grew up playing 3&2 Baseball in Kansas City. I was lucky enough to be noticed by Guys Potato Chip, my senior year in high school, of the Ban Johnson League. It was a premier collegiate summer baseball program. It was okay to even sit on the bench most of the time, for if you made the roster of one of the 6 teams, you knew you were one of the best in Kansas City.
Now the story begins. My dream of becoming a professional baseball grew even stronger. Having just won the NAIA National Championship in 1968, I was hoping to get noticed by several of the major-league scouts who watched William Jewell College march to the championship. The phone didn’t ring. My coaches told me that I had an up-hill battle, in that my 5’6” frame, was not exactly what major league teams were looking for, even though my heart, my ambition, my desire, and my stats, stood 6’6”.
I decided to send out letters on my own. In September of 1969 I sent a letter to Charley Finley, owner of the Oakland Athletics. He in turn gave the letter to Phil Seghi, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. To my surprise, I received a phone call from Mr. Seghi. It seems my letter had an impact on both. He wanted to learn more about me. He asked for several of my coach’s phone numbers.
On September 12th, 1969, I signed a professional contract to play for the Burlington “Bees” Baseball Assn., which played in Burlington Iowa. This was their class “A” affiliate. $400.00 a month, $.04 a mile transportation expenses from Burlington Iowa to my home in Kansas City. The contract I signed would be called a free agent contract today.
Over the winter, I worked out at the Jewish Community Center with other local major league baseball players that I knew, like Chuck Dobson and Steve Mingori. I was in cloud heaven.
In March of 1970 I was on a TWA flight to spring training in Mesa Arizona. I walked into the club house and up to the table where we were to check in. The man behind the desk asked if I was part of the grounds crew? I told him no, that I was David Gershon, who had signed with Oakland. I guess my size didn’t equate to a professional baseball player, let alone a pitcher. He did apologize for his mis-understanding.
Spring training was an eye opener. I may have been one of the better pitchers in the Kansas City area, and played a significant part on Jewell’s National Championship team, but there were 90 other players vying for positions on Oakland’s minor league teams. Most had not signed any bonus, but were just like me, a free agent.
Let me say this to anyone that has ever played the game, or is reading this, or has kids who like me, have desires to become a major leaguer. When the opportunity comes, to show case your talents, you better be ready. I did okay the first few weeks, no better, no worse, than most of the other pitchers. Not that I wasn’t trying, but the competition, the pressure, was intense. That is what ultimately separates the good talent, from the elite talent who becomes a professional baseball player. The day I came into a game with the bases loaded, was the day I must have convinced my coaches that I was to be given the “pink slip on my locker” the next morning. Please report to the manager’s office.
My career was cut short, my heart was broken. I had gone a lot further than most, but my dream of becoming a professional baseball player was coming to an end. I did however, go over to Casa Grande in Arizona, where the Giants were holding spring training. My coaches told me they were looking for relief pitchers, and that they had given my name to them. I went over, tried out, but they took another pitcher who had been released by Oakland a day earlier.
I have never looked back and said what if!! I came home, finished college at UMKC with a business, broadcasting career.
My dream fell short, but my career took off. I have had a Ban Johnson Collegiate summer team for 17 years. I see the desire, their dreams, in each of my players eyes each year.
This is what keeps me in the game!!!