Updated: June 20, 2014 at 8:08 am
Goose Gossage opened the door to the clubhouse, and there sat Mickey Mantle.
"Hey, kid, how you doing?" Mantle shouted in his northeast Oklahoma drawl.
Goose heard the question, but kept walking. He could not find the inner strength to answer Mantle's question.
It was 1975, and The Goose had earned a place on the American League All-Star team. Five years earlier, he had been throwing fastballs for Wasson High School. Ten years earlier he had sat beside his mother, Susanne, and his father, Jake, and watched on TV as Mantle powered baseballs into the outer reaches of Yankee Stadium. Mantle, on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame, launched 536 home runs for the Yankees.
"I thought Mickey Mantle was a fictitious cartoon character," Gossage said. "Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, the Yankees, they were gods and such like."
A few minutes after he nervously walked past Mantle, Goose was standing in the dugout, watching the National League players warm up. He felt a sharp pain in his back. Someone with serious muscle was poking him.
It was Mantle, serving as the AL's honorary captain.
"What's the matter, son?" Mantle said in his now angry drawl. "Don't you talk? What's wrong with you?"
Normally, Goose is a bold man, but all boldness had departed.
"Oh, my, Mr. Mantle, you were my favorite player," Goose said, stammering all the way. "I can't believe I'm meeting you."
Mantle's scowl turned to a smile. He roared with laughter.
"Hey," Mantle said as he slapped Goose on the back, "let's just go have some fun. Congrats on making this team."
Sadly, Mantle is not around to welcome Goose to a new team. The Mick died in 1995. On Sunday, Goose will join Mantle, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Thurman Munson and 25 others as a member of the Yankees Monument Park. Goose played for the Yankees from 1978-83.
Goose turns 63 on July 5, but in many ways he remains the child who sat next to his mom and dad on Beacon Street. The Gossages huddled together in front of the family TV to watch the Yankees, the power from that distant land of New York.
While watching games, Jake often told his son, "You can do this. You can pitch in the big leagues."
"Oh, please," Goose said. He wanted to believe his father, but the 1,634-mile leap from Colorado Springs to Yankee Stadium seemed too immense.
In 1970, a few days after high school graduation, Goose came home to tell Susanne he had found a summer job. He was excited and wanted to talk. She asked him to wait a minute and pointed at two guests sitting in the living room.
The guests were from the Chicago White Sox. They wanted to sign Goose to a contract.
He had long talked about playing professional baseball. He had never truly believed this vision would take shape.
"I had never been out of the state of Colorado," Goose said. "I didn't know where New York was. I had never been on an airplane. I had never been farther from home than Grand Junction."
Eight years after seeing those White Sox scouts, Gossage was pitching in the World Series wearing Yankees pinstripes. This pioneer of modern relief pitching was earning a gargantuan paycheck. He was on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
And yet ...
He never lost his sense of wonder. Each time he walked past Monument Park, past the plaques honoring Ruth and Gehrig, he took care to look at the names on the plaques. He retained his reverence. This makes sense. As a child, Goose had sat beside his mom and dad as they all hoped together that he would travel to this very spot.
A few weeks ago, a Yankees representative called the Gossage home and spoke a simple message. The Goose was joining other Yankees legends in Monument Park.
"I'm glad I'm sitting down," Goose said when he heard the good news.