Published: June 1, 2013
Imagine the terror of facing Goose Gossage in dodgeball battle. Imagine standing on the other side of a gym floor and seeing Goose winding up from a few yards away.
Now, try imagining a Wasson High School student sprinting away from one of the strongest arms to inhabit our planet.
A few days ago, Goose was talking about Wasson, his doomed alma mater. He studied there, graduating in 1971.
He excelled there as a baseball pitcher and high-scoring basketball forward. Goose later earned a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, class of 2008, as a high-velocity relief pitcher, most notably for the New York Yankees.
The greatest single athletic moment in his high school life?
That might have been a savage, scary and ultimately comical dodgeball sequence.
"I had the ball this one day in gym class," Gossage said, "and I saw this kid running away from me."
Now, please be sure to understand Gossage was not questioning the courage of his frantic, retreating classmate. He knows, as you should know, it was not a cowardly act to flee the immense power of his right arm.
No, this was wisdom of the highest degree. Well, maybe not the highest degree. The highest degree would require sprinting straight out of the gym upon realizing The Goose was your dodgeball adversary.
While everyone in the gym class watched, Gossage threw the big rubber ball with as much force as he would ever launch a fastball at Yankee Stadium. The ball hit his classmate in the back of the head.
"And it carried him 10 feet and dumped him," Gossage said, his voice rising as he returned to the moment. "And at first everybody had a laugh."
Seconds later, the laughter ceased. His classmate was not moving.
"'Oh, my God,'" Gossage said to himself. "Did I kill him?"
Gossage ran to the other side of the gym floor to his prone classmate. The Goose was joined by a flock of other students.
"Are you OK? Are you OK?" Goose asked.
After a few seconds, his classmate started to move. He sat up, shook his head.
Was he OK?
"Yeah," he said, "I think so."
A few years ago, Gossage was at a restaurant in the Springs when he heard a voice.
"Hey, Rick," the voice said.
Gossage's oldest friends seldom, if ever, call him Goose. In high school, he was Richard to his teachers and Rick to his friends. He had not yet created The Goose, an intimidating creature with a handlebar mustache who growled at batters for 22 seasons.
At the restaurant, Gossage turned to see a face he did not recognize.
"Rick, I'm the kid you hit in the head with that dodgeball," said the man, now middle-aged.
The man who once sprinted from the might of Goose's right arm smiled.
"It's my claim to fame," he said. "I got hit in the head by Goose Gossage."
Goose Gossage joined the battle this school year to keep Wasson High School open. He remains disappointed and upset Wasson supporters lost this struggle.
"Well, I'm very sad, you know," he said. "I'm not so sad for my personal reasons; that it's my old school and our old school or whatever. It's not that. Schools close all the time.
"I'm sad because it's such a great school. The programs are amazing for those kids. That's why I got involved for those kids, and those special programs that they have for the kids out there. It's really for the kids that I was so disappointed that the school is being closed.
"It's just a great school, and these fools down there, I mean the school board, I don't know what they're thinking. There's no real reason. They couldn't even give you a real reason why they were closing it down. It's not about the kids and education anymore. It's all about money, like everything else is.
"I was very, very disappointed."
DAVID RAMSEY, THE GAZETTE