Saturday, February 2, 2019

My brush with greatness with the Goffs

For years, months and especially this Super Bowl week, I have read and seen countless stories about all of Jared Goff’s accomplishments.
Now it’s time for my Jared Goff story. I saw him in his first house before he learned to crawl, much less walk. I suspect I was among dozens privileged to first see Jared. I would imagine billions have seen him since.
The story begins with his father, Jerry, who I love, admire and greatly respect. I was sports columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was covering Jerry’s brief, yet unforgettable, major league baseball career. A San Rafael High School star, Jerry was drafted three times – first by the Oakland A’s in 1983 as a third baseman from College of Marin then in 1984 by the New York Yankees before deciding instead to play at Cal. In 1986, two months before I moved from Rockford, Illinois to Novato, California, Jerry was drafted again – as a catcher -- by the Seattle Mariners. Little known fact: He was drafted in the third round ahead of a fourth-round pick named Bo Jackson, a football player at Auburn.
Jerry ultimately was traded to the Montreal Expos and signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was between his first and second year with the Pirates when I interviewed him at his home. He and his wife, Nancy, had recently moved into and renovated his parent’s old house in San Rafael, just west of Highway 101.
Jared was about three months old and lying on the living room floor. Who knew then that he would one day become the No. 1 pick overall in the NFL Draft and lead his team to the Super Bowl.
When Jared was the No. 1 pick three years ago I received a phone call from a friend and former Marin IJ colleague Jarrett Bell from USA Today. Jarrett knew Jared was from Marin County and asked if I knew anyone locally he could interview about Jared. I put him in touch with Goff longtime family friends, Keith and Susan Conroy, who used to live in my neighborhood before moving to Novato, and, of course, I encouraged Jarrett to contact Jerry. I told Jarrett I had done several stories on Jerry and then told him the best one.
Jerry owns a Major League Baseball record. One few remember and I’m sure Jerry would like to forget. However, it is symbolic of the resolve, character, and class that Jerry obviously passed onto his son.
Jerry was a back-up catcher for the Houston Astros in 1996. He was behind the plate for the final game of a series against the Montreal Expos in Olympic Stadium on a Sunday afternoon when he tied a MLB record for most passed balls in a game – six – and none of the Astros’ pitchers were knuckleballers. Jerry simply had a bad day, as did the game’s official scorer in the press box who probably should have ruled wild pitches on two of the passed balls.
It didn’t seem to matter that Jerry went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the game and hit a home run in the second inning to deep left-centerfield.
The Astros flew to Chicago where the next day Jerry was in the bullpen in Wrigley Field down the right field line. Knowledgeable Cubs fans were giving it to him, razzing him. They were shouting PB and they didn’t mean Pass the Beer.
That night, after the game, Jerry hooked up with some of his buddies from San Rafael who had flown into Chicago to see him. Jerry just wanted to get out, have some fun, relax and, most of all, put all the embarrassment and insults from the previous 24 hours behind him, like too many Astros pitches the day before.
They went to a bar and Jerry relished the anonymity among friends. He was drinking beer and forgetting that he possessed a dubious MLB record. He then excused himself to go to the men’s room. He was standing in front of a urinal when one of his friends next to him suddenly begged him, `Don’t look up.’ Naturally Jerry looked up. Right in front of him, above the urinal, was the front page of the sports section of that morning’s newspaper with a big, bold headline that began “Goff’s gaffes …”
It’s a good thing Jerry didn’t take aim at the sports page. He wasn’t really pissed.
Jerry recounted that story to me by phone the very next day when I tracked him down at the Astros’ team hotel in Chicago. He didn’t have to take my call, but he did. He didn’t have to take a call from ESPN Radio the day before, but he did. Jerry was not one to hide. He handled adversity with aplomb.
“Unfortunately I'm going to be remembered forever about this, but it's not something I'm going to let live with me,” Jerry told me. “It's not like I lost a family member. It's not the end of the world.”
Four days later, the Astros demoted him. Jerry never played in another major league game though he is one of few major leaguers to hit a home run in his last one.
Fortunately, some 22 years later, Jerry is now being remembered again for all the right reasons. He is a fireman in California where so many are needed and the father of a Super Bowl quarterback who possesses the same character as his dad.
It’s not the end of the world indeed.