• School district honors Rick Sutcliffe

  • When Zachary Driskell was announced to the overflow crowd at Roper Stadium, before the start of the game between the host Van Horn Falcons and St. Mary’s baseball teams, he was wearing No. 17.

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  • When Zachary Driskell was announced to the overflow crowd at Roper Stadium, before the start of the game between the host Van Horn Falcons and St. Mary’s baseball teams, he was wearing No. 17.
    “I can promise you, he’s not going to be wearing that jersey long,” quipped Van Horn graduate Rick Sutcliffe, who wore No. 17 during his playing days in the 1970s.
    The public address announcer stated,” Now wearing No. 17 – but soon to be wearing No. 21 – Zachary Driskell.”
    Sutcliffe then tip-toed behind the junior utility player and pulled the jersey over his head.
    It was difficult to tell who was having more fun – Driskell, or the Falcon legend who graduated in 1974 and went on to win the National League Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cy Young Award with the Chicago Cubs.
    “It’s an honor to give Rick my jersey,” Driskell said. “I didn’t even ask him for anything. To think that Rick Sutcliffe has something that once belonged to me is a real honor.”
    It was one of many honors bestowed on he big redhead Thursday night as Roper Stadium was the site for Rick Sutcliffe Night.
    “Rick grew up here, and it’s time we honored him,” said Dr. Jim Hinson, superintendent of schools for the Independence School District. “I’ve had the occasion to meet with Rick several times over the past few weeks, and once you meet him, you feel like you’ve known him forever. He’s a pretty unique individual.”
    Long before the 7:15 p.m. game between the Falcons and St. Mary’s High School, Sutcliffe met in the left-field pavilion with members of the Truman, William Chrisman, St. Mary’s and Van Horn baseball teams.
    “I’ve been on the mound at Yankee Stadium with 60,000 screaming fans in the stands,” Sutcliffe said. “I’ve broadcast games on ESPN with millions of fans watching – and I’m fine with that. But I have to be honest with you – right now I’m nervous as heck.”
    Sutcliffe gave a heartfelt talk to the players about what it takes to be a success.
    He never mentioned ERA – but he stressed the importance of a GPA.
    “How many of you know what a GPA is?” Sutcliffe asked.
    Most players raised their hands.
    “When a scout came to my house after I’d been drafted, they asked three questions – they wanted my name, my age and my GPA (grade point average).
    “They knew what I could do on the mound, because they’d seen me pitch. But my 3.8 GPA was something that was just as impressive.”
    Sutcliffe, who would later throw batting practice to each team, looked at the sea of uniforms and said, “Come on, stay with me. That’s why I have this baseball. Dr. Hinson told me I could bean anyone who didn’t pay attention.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Sutcliffe stressed teamwork – both on and off the field – the importance of working hard in the classroom and dealing with that one teacher who’s tougher than all the rest.
    “That teacher,” Sutcliffe said, “is the one who really cares.”
    Sutcliffe then joined more than 1,500 fans as he threw batting practice, was named an Outstanding Missourian by the House of Representatives, had his jersey retired and had a street renamed Rick Sutcliffe Drive.
    But the moment he most cherished came when his 98-year-old grandfather, Bill Yearout, walked onto the field and threw the first pitch.
    “He didn’t throw it very far,” Sutcliffe said, his eyes moist, “but he threw it overhand.”
    Yearout was more like a father to Sutcliffe when he was growing up.
    “If it weren’t for Grandpa, I wouldn’t be here today,” Sutcliffe said.
    Throughout the game, Sutcliffe announced raffle winners, signed autographs, posed for photos and sang “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” in the fifth inning.
    He could have waited until the seventh, because the scheduled seven-inning game turned into a 3-hour, 20-minute marathon with the Trojans claiming a 5-4 victory over his alma mater.

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