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Big League Little Boy : Third-Grader Goes to Bat for Don Drysdale Interview

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Daniel Hatkoff, an aspiring sports commentator, learned some of the key lessons of the trade last week: Think big and persist.

Or maybe offer some money.

When the other children in Daniel’s third-grade class in Northridge were given an assignment to interview someone in an interesting profession, nearly all chose their parents or family friends.

Daniel went after Don Drysdale, the legendary former Dodgers pitcher who pitched in five World Series and made nine All-Star teams before retiring in 1969.

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“When you’re 8 years old, you have delusions of grandeur,” said Brian Hatkoff of Chatsworth, Daniel’s father. “That’s part of the innocence of being a kid.”

Last Monday morning, however, three months after Daniel wrote a letter offering $10 from his weekly allowance for Drysdale’s time and trouble, the two met for a videotaped chat at Dodger Stadium.

For Daniel, the interview fulfilled not only a homework assignment but also a baseball lover’s dream.

“I just wanted to keep on trying, and now finally I got through,” the red-haired youngster said. “It was fun. He was pretty nice.”

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The dream was realized after Daniel’s letter finally found its way to Drysdale through a Hatkoff family friend, who does television camera work for the Dodgers.

“You could see that he was sincere,” Drysdale said of the letter. “I had some time, so I followed up on it.”

The retired pitcher, who lives in Pasadena, and his young admirer spoke for half an hour, sitting beneath sunny skies in club seats far down the left-field line.

At first it was Drysdale, now a baseball commentator and an experienced interviewer, who asked the questions, seeking to put a suddenly shy Daniel at ease and inadvertently preempting an introduction that the boy had planned as a “reporter” with “Channel 3 news.”

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But then, mustering the courage befitting his name, Daniel switched into talk-show-host mode and tossed out his 18 penciled questions as regularly as the practice balls that pitcher Orel Hershiser lobbed on the field below them.

“Now tell me, Don,” the youngster asked, “what made you want to play baseball anyway?”

Drysdale was ready for that one. “I played baseball from the first time I could pick up a bat or a ball,” he said.

“I never pitched. . . . I wasn’t as tall as I am now,” he added, his 6-foot-6 frame dwarfing his interrogator, whose feet dangled from his bleacher seat. “When I got out of high school, I grew four inches.”

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“Mm-hmm,” Daniel murmured encouragingly, in true interviewer fashion.

Soon, though, he switched from Drysdale’s illustrious career to more personal topics, and at one point threw Drysdale a curve by asking which the former athlete had wanted to be President--Michael Dukakis or George Bush. A short pause ensued.

“Whoever could do the job,” the former athlete answered diplomatically.

It was a question, Daniel explained later, that he had thought of nearly three years ago, when the Bush-Dukakis election was still news. Daniel, who hopes to become a professional baseball player and commentator like Drysdale, said he had been saving it for the day he was assigned to interview someone.

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“He’s a staunch Democrat,” joked his father, a real estate broker who attended the interview with a video camera in hand and several baseballs for Drysdale to autograph.

The videotape will be shown in February, after the long winter break, to the rest of Daniel’s class at Balboa Boulevard Gifted and High Ability Magnet School.

Daniel was given the assignment in September, and “his project is about three months late,” Daniel’s teacher, Kathy Thorlakson, said, chuckling.

But she said she had granted the youngster an extension and would have kept his grade open until next fall if he was sure he could eventually make good on his promise.

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“He’s just a little dynamite guy--a very, very bright little kid,” she said. “I knew if there was a way, he’d have a will.”

He also had the $10 he promised Drysdale, saved from his dollar-a-week allowance. After the interview was completed, Daniel fished out the bill in his pocket, sealed it in an envelope and left it for Drysdale in the Dodgers office.

But the former pitcher caught up with Daniel in the parking lot and handed back the promised payoff.

“You put that in your bank and you save that,” he said. “Maybe that’ll start you off on something big.”

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Like hiring an agent to negotiate his first contract.


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