I've got to admit that I'm a pretty lucky guy. I've got the best job around, getting to talk sports on the radio and the privilege of calling University of Utah games too. One of the other perks of the job is that occasionally I have the opportunity to emcee events like the one that I will be part of next week to benefit the University of Utah baseball program.
Each year, for the last six years, Utah baseball coach Bill Kinneberg has kicked off the baseball season with a dinner, highlighted by a guest speaker with Major League Baseball roots. Past speakers have included: Terry Francona, Cal Ripken Jr., Harmon Killebrew, Brooks Robinson and Bruce Hurst. This year's speaker will be one of the best all-around players of the last 25 years in Major League Baseball, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.
Growing up as a child of the 70's and 80's and a huge baseball fan in Kansas City, I had the chance to watch Winfield play for the Yankees, Angels and Blue Jays — three of the six teams he played for during his 22-year career. I remember watching Winfield roam the outfield and thinking what a freak of nature he was, standing 6-foot-6 and running with his long strides. Winfield was simply one of the best all-around baseball players and athletes of his generation.
For those that don't know, he was a scholarship baseball and basketball player for his alma mater, Minnesota, in the early 1970's. Former Jazz coach Frank Layden told me he recalled coaching against Winfield while at Niagara. Layden said that Winfield could have made a living playing professional basketball if that was the path he had chosen. In fact, Dave Winfield is one of the few athletes ever drafted by four professional sports teams.
In 1973 he was chosen fourth overall by the San Diego Padres as a pitcher. From professional basketball, both the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA and the Utah Stars of the ABA drafted him, so yes, he could have played here in Salt Lake City. And finally, though he never played college football, the Minnesota Vikings choose him in the 17th round of the NFL draft. Although he had many choices, it's hard to argue with his ultimate decision to play Major League Baseball.
Just a snapshot of his career reveals 12 trips to the All-Star Game, seven Gold Gloves, a World Series title, and induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. In addition to what he did on the field, Winfield did as much off the field — creating the David M. Winfield Foundation for Underprivileged Youth in 1977.
When I spoke with Winfield on my show a few weeks ago, he talked just as glowingly about his off-field accomplishments as his on field honors.
In a day-and-age when athletes are often criticized for their me-first and show-me-the-money attitudes, Winfield continues to be a glowing example of how a professional athlete can be an example both on and off the field.
If you are a baseball fan and would love nothing more than to talk some baseball and meet one of the great all around players of all time, come join us Tuesday for a "Night with Dave Winfield" at the University Park Marriott. Information is available at Utahutes.com or call 801-581-6445.
Listen to the Dave Winfield interview by clicking this link and looking near the bottom of the page.
Bill Riley is the voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.