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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Lasorda an inspiration

KU skipper dons No. 2 in honor of baseball icon

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Long a bitter, sometimes even dangerous baseball rivalry, the ugly side of the feud between the Dodgers and Giants is best captured in an incident in which Giants pitcher Juan Marichal hit catcher Johnny Roseboro on the head with a baseball bat.

Bobby Thomson hitting a Ralph Branca pitch over the fence triggered baseball's most famous radio call, from Russ Hodges: "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

Time hasn't eroded the rivalry, which makes it all the more impressive that a lifelong Giants fan considers his baseball inspiration to be the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It's no coincidence that Kansas University baseball coach and lifelong Giants fan Ritch Price wears No. 2 on his back, the same number Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda wore for the Dodgers.

"He was coaching third base for the Dodgers on the Saturday game of the week with Curt Gowdy," Price remembered. "They had him miked up. Obviously, the guy is Mr. Energy, Mr. Enthusiasm. I watched that game, and when it was over I changed my jersey to No. 2, and I've worn it since. I thought it was unbelievable to watch somebody coach with that kind of passion, that kind of love for the game."

Price was taken aback to hear that Lasorda celebrated his 80th birthday Saturday.

"Wow!" Price said. "I'm shocked that he's there. He's been an absolute gold mine for this great game. I don't think there's ever been a better ambassador for baseball, ever. I hope he lives another 20 years so we're celebrating his 100th birthday some day."

Passion for the game and boundless energy forever have been cited as two of Price's greatest assets. He also is skilled public speaker. But Price is not ashamed to acknowledge that on those fronts, in a head-to-head matchup with the original No. 2, he ranks No. 2.

Three years ago, at the National Baseball Coaches Convention, Price had the poor luck of having to address the crowd right after Lasorda.

"Right as I was supposed to speak they announced they have a special guest speaker," Price said. "They showed video of Tommy Lasorda's career, all the way from the time he was a player with the Dodgers, a coach with the Dodgers, and a manager with the Dodgers, winning the world championships, and they showed him winning the gold medal. The whole time Frank Sinatra's singing the song 'I Did It My Way.' He got about a 15-minute standing ovation when he came out and spoke. He's one of the greatest motivational speakers in the world, and when he's done I was next up. I had goose bumps watching him, and needless to say, that was a pretty tough act to follow."

Afterward, Price shook Lasorda's hand in the hotel lobby and chatted with him.

"He stood there for more than an hour, shaking hands and talking to coaches," Price said.

For his birthday last year, Price said, Lawrence High baseball coach Brad Stoll gave him "one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given. He got a personally autographed Tommy Lasorda picture for me that's in my Hall of Fame room in my basement, and I'm really proud of it. It's personally addressed to me, and he spelled my name properly, even with a 't.' I couldn't believe his attention to detail. It was really special."

Price is in his fifth year heading the Kansas program.

"He signed with the Dodgers out of high school, and that's the only employer he's ever had," Price marveled of Lasorda. "Almost 60 years with the same organization. Amazing."

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