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Ed Godfrey: A small town boy's journey from the ball field to the press box

The Stigler Panthers celebrate a playoff win over Roland in 1976. [PHOTO PROVIDED]
The Stigler Panthers celebrate a playoff win over Roland in 1976. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

Thinking about the 1971 "Game of the Century" between the Oklahoma Sooners and Nebraska Cornhuskers still makes me sad.

Damn that Johnny Rodgers.

Thinking about Game 6 of the 1985 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals still makes me mad.

Damn that Don Denkinger.

Why do I love sports? I don't know, but I always have. I would say it is part of my DNA but no one else in my family was obsessed with sports the way I was. My older brothers often remind me they couldn't play sports when they were young because they had to work instead. The implication being how easy I had it growing up compared to them.

Maybe I did, but it also seemed to me they were more interested in girls and cars than playing ball. Being too young to drive or to date at the time, I immersed myself in sports and comic books.

Whenever I had a dime to spend, I would ride my bike to the Five & Dime in downtown Stigler and get a wax pack of Topps baseball cards.

Then I would head across Main Street to Head's Pharmacy and spend a nickel on a big scoop of ice cream on a cone. I would go sit by the comic book rack, eat my ice cream cone, and read the latest adventures of Superman, Batman and the Lone Ranger.

The Five & Dime was really a cool place with lots of candy, knick-knacks, toys, Big Chief writing tablets and No. 2 pencils.

A sweet old man named Hubert Claunts owned the store, and he and the kids in Stigler had a relationship like peanut butter and jelly. They were stuck on each other.

The Five & Dime carried all the school supplies for kids and a wide assortment of candies like Milk Duds and Sugar Babies. However, what I coveted most were the baseball cards, and then as the seasons changed, the football and basketball cards, too.

They were called trading cards but I never traded any. I hoarded them like toilet paper during a pandemic.

I became a Cardinals baseball fan because of KMOX, the powerful AM station in St. Louis that carried Redbirds games throughout the South and Midwest.

Sometimes I could barely get reception on the bulky stereo console in our living room, but if I could make out just a few words of Jack Buck's broadcast through the crackling, I was going to tune in. When the Cardinals went on a West Coast trip and it was past my bedtime, I would hide a transistor radio under my pillow and listen during the night.

It would be like Christmas morning when I opened a pack of baseball cards. The anticipation, often disappointment, but exhilaration of getting a Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron or Johnny Bench card to add to my scrapbook.

I have my mother to thank for me still having my collection today. She didn't throw them away or sell them in a yard sale when I decided I was too grown up for such nonsense.

I am 60 years old now and I am buying baseball cards again, although they cost a lot more than a dime.

Maybe guys love sports because we never really want to grow up. Our adult lives are filled with so much seriousness.

Glorious things happen to us as kids on the ball fields and playgrounds that are burned into our brains. Like the times when I donned the uniform of King's Tire Service or Guaranty Abstract and patrolled center field. Sometimes I would be summoned from the outfield to the mound because no one else could throw the ball over the plate.

Just like Dizzy Dean famously once said in a radio broadcast of the Cardinals' pitching staff, I couldn't break a pane of glass with my fastball, but I could throw a strike.

I remember the two greatest plays I made in my Little League career like they happened yesterday.

We were in a tight spot against Spiro. The bases were loaded, one out, and a pop fly was hit over the shortstop's head. The third base coach kept wildly waving all the runners in when I raced in from center field position and made a knee-high basket catch on the run. It turned into an inning-ending double play after I tossed the ball to my future college roommate at third.

Then there was the moment against Gore, two on and two out, and I drilled a 3-2 pitch in my wheelhouse over the left fielder's head. I still recall the crack of the bat (real wood) and ole' Hub Storment, who sat behind home plate for almost every game, shouting, "That's the way to hit that ball!"

I continued playing sports in high school — football, basketball, track (we didn't have high school baseball) — and dreaming of championships and game-winning plays. Growing up in a small town means you get on the football field even when you weigh just 150 pounds and can't run a 5 flat 40.

My freshman and sophomore year our high school football team went 0-10 each season. We kept showing up for practice anyway and broke the losing streak in the second game of my junior season.

That year we won eight games and our conference, upset Roland in the first round of the playoffs, before losing a close game to Okemah in the next round. Okemah went on to win the state championship and we started wondering if we were better than we thought.

On the basketball court, there were highs like scoring 22 points to beat Wilburton and lows like an 0-for-11 shooting night in a loss to Talihina.

Of course, the final scores are not important now. The only things that are important are the memories and the lasting relationships with some of my high school teammates. Come to think of it, that is the reason I love sports. The bonds it creates. I've had lifelong friends because I was part of a team.

I even owe my journalism career to sports and a high school teacher. When I was a junior, my English teacher, Billie Adcock, also was the adviser for our student newspaper, The Panther Star.

At the time, the class was filled with only senior girls. "Mrs. A," as her students affectionately called her, recruited me to be the lone sportswriter on staff because I was on the football team. She also knew from her English class that I could write a coherent sentence.

It didn't require a hard sell since I was going to be the only boy in class. I had finally developed some of the same interests as my brothers.

My sports stories and columns won awards at Northeastern Oklahoma State University's high school newspaper competitions both my junior and senior year. Neither OU nor OSU offered me the athletic scholarship I dreamed of, so I went to Eastern Oklahoma State College to major in journalism.

The glory days had already passed me by. I wasn't good enough to share the field with collegiate athletes, but it turned out I was good enough to write about them.

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Why do you love sports?

Email us your response at NICsportsdesk@oklahoman.com.

Related Photos
<strong>St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar bumps into umpire Don Denkinger during an argument in the fifth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals on Oct. 27, 1985. [AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy]</strong>

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar bumps into umpire Don Denkinger during an argument in the fifth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals on Oct. 27, 1985. [AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f09b2dba4b7e15e6333b2ad7f5f8f714.jpg" alt="Photo - St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar bumps into umpire Don Denkinger during an argument in the fifth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals on Oct. 27, 1985. [AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy] " title=" St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar bumps into umpire Don Denkinger during an argument in the fifth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals on Oct. 27, 1985. [AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy] "><figcaption> St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar bumps into umpire Don Denkinger during an argument in the fifth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals on Oct. 27, 1985. [AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-80730f9ba4a9ef7139d2e2371f97848e.jpg" alt="Photo - The Stigler Panthers celebrate a playoff win over Roland in 1976. [PHOTO PROVIDED] " title=" The Stigler Panthers celebrate a playoff win over Roland in 1976. [PHOTO PROVIDED] "><figcaption> The Stigler Panthers celebrate a playoff win over Roland in 1976. [PHOTO PROVIDED] </figcaption></figure>
Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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