Ah! The “Great One.” Well, I’ve been teaching and coaching at Gordon Tech High School in Chicago for lots of years. I try to pattern my practices after Gordie’s. I got the chance to visit with him twice in the last month at St. Francis. He is an amazing man. He still conducts the best baseball practices that I’ve ever seen. Players are all business and wouldn’t dare deviate from his plan. But then he’ll do something crazy to get everyone laughing.
I remember he was pitching batting practice. Now he couldn’t throw the ball more than about 10 miles an hour, but he’d do it to have some fun. I’d lace one right over his head and he’d scream, “Miller, that’s the hardest ball you’ve hit in 100 years, but next time hit it over there, not at my head!” Everyone would be holding back a laugh – you’re “officially” not supposed to laugh out loud at practice but we knew he was entertaining us.
Then I would rap a drive into left center off the wall and Gordie’d yell at our centerfielder, “Chignoli, you bum, you gotta dive for that ball; here I gotta no-hitter going in the ninth and you don’t give me any support.”
He made you love going to practice. He’d work you but you knew you’d have some fun too. That made all the difference.
Sometimes I’d get a key hit or make a good play in the field and all I’d remember is that look he’d give you; his gaze would reach your soul. He wouldn’t even have to say anything. You just knew he was proud of you. Getting his look like that was as much fun as winning the game. Probably more, now that I look back on it.