The year was 1959. I was 12 and shy to a fault. But an almost close encounter with my baseball hero, Gus Triandos, would change my life forever.
Not so with Gus Triandos, a brawny, slow-footed catcher who wore number 11, and who, from an incredible spread-eagle stance, hit tape measure home runs in cavernous
But Gus was our hero because of a lot more than muscle. He was a genuine good guy, a man who cared for his teammates and who understood the "give back" component when it came to ballplayers and community relations. He was there for the fans, especially young fans. Kids understood that, and they embraced the big man almost from the day he arrived at the
Three of his baseball exploits stand out. Each occurred in 1958, and I witnessed them all, first hand, with my father. Though Triandos made the All-Star team four times, it was his appearance as the starting catcher for the '58
My other Gus baseball moments happened simultaneously that same year, in late September, the 20th, to be exact. My dad had us perched in the splintered wooden bleachers way out in left field, where we watched in awe as knuckleballer
The winning run: a 425 foot home run into, you guessed it, the left field bleachers, just over our heads. That home run was Triandos' 30th of the year, tying the record for American League catchers, held by none other than Yogi Berra.
I worshiped Gus. We all did, mimicking his wide stance, trying to pull the long ball in sandlot play. One Saturday in 1959, Gus was appearing at a nearby school auditorium to sign autographs and talk a little baseball. My dad took me to meet my hero and to collect a coveted Triandos autograph. When the time came for me to walk up and do the deed, I chickened out. My father was beside himself. I was too shy, and it cost me, big time.
For years I regretted not having met Gus, but I held out hope that I still might meet him, maybe through my work at the
Nevertheless, Gus Triandos did change my life forever because that failed autograph opportunity in 1959 made me realize that being shy wasn't going to get it done for Mike Gibbons. And for those of you who may know me through the museum, you know that I am the antithesis of shy.
Thanks, Big Gus, for that, and so much more. You truly were Baltimore's first sports hero.
Mike Gibbons is the executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.