Folks in Oklahoma know all about tornadoes and how to deal with them. A big one hit the Sooner State this week, and they loved it! Gio Gonzalez and his family blew into Oklahoma City on Wednesday as he accepted the Warren Spahn Award, given annually by the Bricktown Rotary Club to the best left-handed pitcher in baseball.
I’ve had the privilege of emceeing the banquet for the last three years, and it was a special delight for me to have Gio, parents Max and Yolanda and agent Jamie Appel alongside for the ceremony. Past winners include Randy Johnson, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, David Price and Clayton Kershaw. The beautiful bronze sculpture (shown below) depicts Warren Spahn’s famous high leg kick, and is one of the most striking pieces of hardware any athlete could receive.
Spahn, a native Oklahoman and Native American, won 363 games during his Hall of Fame career, the most wins ever by a lefty. I noted during the program that Warren also had 363 hits, and Gonzalez answered, “That’s great! I only have 360 to go!”
The Gonzalez entourage arrived in Oklahoma on Wednesday, took in a Thunder win versus the Denver Nuggets (Gio was featured on the giant video screen), then experienced Oklahoma City’s Bricktown nightlife into the wee hours - or so I was told.
On Thursday, Gio visited a local high school and spoke to student-athletes about his path to the major leagues and sacrifices made. At his side was Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, who honors the top softball and baseball players and coaches in the state every year at the banquet with the Ferguson Jenkins Award.
When I found out in October that Gio was to win this prestigious award, I told everyone within earshot that they would fall in love with this young man and his family, and they did. He was surrounded constantly by adoring fans at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, and one would have thought we were in the D.C. area for all the excitement and talk about the Nationals.
When I interviewed Gio at the podium and asked him about his family, he got very emotional, especially when he talked of how Max had taught him everything about our great game and had supported him every step of the way. He had to pause a few times and gather himself, and the crowd of 400 was very touched.
He also told the crowd that, based on the career Warren Spahn had, this award made him feel just as good as the Cy Young Award would have had he won it, and I know he meant it. The Spahn family shows up every year to honor their father and grandfather, and there was suddenly a strong connection between the Spahn and Gonzalez clans.
I wish you all could have been there to share this special night with our special young lefty, more than 1,300 miles from Nationals Park. For one interesting night, a capital city in Oklahoma sounded and looked a lot like the one in the District!