Sports

Canadian Connection Indians Pitcher Hails From The Land Of Gretzky

Ruth and Earl Gooding discovered their son’s intentions when they presented their 9-year-old with a Wayne Gretzky jersey.

The excited Canadian tyke slipped on the hockey shirt, No. 99 boldly printed on the back, and struck a pose in the hallway mirror.

A decidedly baseball-like pose.

“He was practicing his pitching stance,” Ruth Gooding said. “We knew then which direction he was headed.”

Nearly 15 years later, Jason Gooding hasn’t switched his No. 1 goal of pitching in the major leagues.

This summer is the left-hander’s first as a professional.

His fifth start should be Friday night for the Spokane Indians, who begin a six-game homestand today , starting with three against the Yakima Bears (6-15).

Spokane (16-5) leads the Northwest League’s North Division by one game over Boise, which begins a three-game set in Spokane on Saturday. The Indians are 8-0 at home, their best start in history. Fireworks will follow tonight’s game.

Spokane’s five-man starting rotation, which hasn’t changed much through nearly one-third of the NWL season, features a rarity: two Canadians.

One is Jordy Alexander of British Columbia, who pitched last year for the Tri-City Posse of the independent Western League.

The other is Gooding, a Cambridge, Ontario, lad who did what most Canadian lads are expected to do - love hockey. But in Gooding’s case, he did so from afar.

Yes, he still rates his Gretzky rookie card as his most prized possession.

But Gooding couldn’t shake his baseball roots.

“His dad and grandad played baseball,” Ruth said. “That was their thing.”

Gooding was no late bloomer. He was named the best pitcher at a tournament in Toronto for 10- to 12-year-olds, then earned the same honor three years later at Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“I first knew of him at a tournament in Kelowna (British Columbia),” said Texas Tech pitching coach Frank Anderson, who instructed Gooding earlier this year. “I kept tabs on him after that.”

Gooding graduated from Preston High in 1992, the same year he made the Canadian national team and beat the U.S. Olympic team during an exhibition at SkyDome.

The Cleveland Indians drafted Gooding in ‘93, but he chose not to sign. He instead followed Shawn Travers, of nearby Guelph, Ontario, to Texarcana (Texas) Junior College.

Gooding posted a 10-0 record as a freshman. He was 11-0 earlier this year with Texas Tech, and is 2-0 with Spokane.

“We had a good offensive team at Tech, just like we do here,” Gooding said. “It makes for a more relaxing atmosphere out there when you have three to four runs to work with.”

The Kansas City Royals drafted Gooding in the fifth round last month. Anderson said his ace might have gone higher if he’d been an American citizen, because clubs are limited on the visas they can distribute.

The transition to the professional game, and to living in an unknown town, became easier when Gooding learned that Tech teammate Joe Dillon, a seventh-round selection, was also sent to Spokane. Gooding and Dillon are living in the basement of a South Side family that rarely misses home games.

Mom Gooding is naturally pleased that her son and his team are doing well, but her preference would be a promotion to Lansing (Mich.), where she could occasionally see Jason pitch.

Anderson said Gooding has a shot at pitching in the majors because he’s left-handed and has excellent control.

“I was lucky to be born left-handed,” Gooding concedes. “But somebody made me 5-foot-10, too.”

“At least he’s taken his opportunity,” Ruth Gooding said. “Baseball’s been good to him. He’s seen a lot of the world and got his education because of it.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo



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