Photo of NU All-American Alex Gordon by Chris Vleisides, Kansas City Royals
By Randy York
Since it’s now official that Alex Gordon made a game-changing donation to his alma mater and paved the way for the Nebraska indoor baseball/softball facility to be called the Alex Gordon Training Complex, it’s time we change the framework and the context of a hometown hero who saw a need and contributed $1 million to reinforce a program in which he strongly believes. First and foremost, on this day of commitment and celebration, let’s congratulate the two-time Gold Glove Kansas City Royals’ left-fielder for doing something tantamount to buying flowers for the wedding, paying for the dresses, the tuxes, the rehearsal dinner and the wedding celebration and then asking what else he might do to help the cause. I mean, what we have is a 29-year-old budding major league leader deciding to legitimize everything that’s good about Nebraska baseball at the same time he’s focusing on becoming an MLB all-star, helping his team compete for an American League pennant and chasing the franchise team dream to previously unimaginable heights. With that backdrop, let’s examine 10 solid reasons why Alex invested in his hometown and why his signature support is such a wise investment.
1) Alex can use the indoor practice facility with his name on it whenever it’s open and he needs to hone any particular skill – hitting, fielding, running, whatever. Frankly, that’s already happened. During the holiday season last December, Mike Dobbs, who came up with the idea to have Alex’s name grace Nebraska’s training complex, would meet Gordon at 6 a.m., to unlock the door, so he could work on his hitting. A former Nebraska pitcher and key player on the Husker Athletic Fund staff, Dobbs would even shag balls for Gordon, so he could work on his the club record 20 outfield assists two years ago and the prestigious Gold Glover awards he earned in each of the past two American League seasons.
2) In his own way, Alex can pay back the first person who put him in left field. Dobbs is more than a key contact for Gordon in the Nebraska Athletic Department. “He’s a great friend of mine, a great friend of my family and he’s been great in the way he’s supported all of us,” Gordon said. “He was my JV baseball coach at Lincoln Southeast and my Legion coach my freshman year of high school. We both love the game of baseball so we have that connection between us. Mike brought me the idea of putting my name on the indoor facility. He was also the first person to put me in left field when my brother was playing third base. He likes to take the credit and he should. It’s a fun position, and I’m still learning and trying to figure it out.”
3) Without swinging the bat, diving for a catch or throwing someone out heading for home, Alex can watch his alma mater leverage his legacy as a positive recruiting force. Make no mistake. Having a player like Gordon get 726 hits in his first 720 Major League Baseball regular-season games gets the attention of aspiring Division I baseball players. Last season, his 51 doubles led all major league players. When you blend those accomplishments with his college achievements, a legacy becomes a strategically advantageous recruiter, especially when you throw in Gordon’s two first-team All-America awards and his being named the 2005 National Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association.
4) Alex can follow in the footsteps of another million-dollar giver – Nebraska head baseball coach Darin Erstad. Yes, Erstad has contributed the same single gift to Nebraska Athletics as Gordon just did. Nebraska’s second-year head coach praises Gordon for his generosity and says it shows how much the Huskers really mean to Gordon, who only hopes that someday he can have the kind of impact on the program as Erstad has now. “He’s been around the game a long time and has a lot of experiences,” Gordon said of Erstad. “He makes a lot of connections that have been very good for recruiting. He has that fire and intensity about the game, and I think that goes over very well with college baseball. It will all pay off.”
5) Alex can perpetuate his reputation as one of Lincoln’s all-time great hometown heroes. Gordon was the No. 2 overall pick in the major league draft. Seven years ago, he was Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. He was a career .355 hitter in his three seasons at Nebraska and played in every inning except one during those three yeas. In his final season as a Husker, he led Nebraska to a Big 12 sweep during the regular season and the conference tournament. He was the highest draft pick in Big 12 baseball history and was twice named the Big 12 Player of the Year. He led the Huskers to a school-record 57 wins and the Huskers’ first College World Series victory. Through all of that, he has stayed humble.
6) Alex can become a one-man billboard for UNL grads that become successful and choose to live in Lincoln and raise a family. Gordon credits the University of Nebraska for three amazing seasons and one incredible journey that prepared him to compete well at baseball’s highest level. He and his wife, Jamie, are both natives of Lincoln and decided to build a house and call it home during the off-season. Paul Meyers, Nebraska’s associate athletic director for the Husker Athletic Fund, calls Jamie “the ultimate teammate” for her hard-working husband. “They are equally proud of their hometown, and when they made the joint decision to donate, there was equal input.”
7) As a once outstanding athlete in the Big 12 Conference, Alex can extol the virtues of why Nebraska is so focused on establishing prominence in the Big Ten Conference. Even though he played in the Big 12, Alex loves the opportunity Nebraska has to become a perennial Big Ten title contender. “I’ve been able to talk to Coach Erstad a lot over the past couple years,” he said. “I know we’ve had a rough start this year, but I love the way he’s scheduled all those tough games on the road. It might have created a slow start, but I think it’s really going to help Nebraska in the long run, especially when they get to the Big Ten part of the schedule that really counts. I know what playing all those tough teams does – makes you better.”
8) As a son/father/husband, Alex can emulate the work ethic he inherited from his parents and pay it forward. Alex knows why he’s been able to accomplish what he has so far. “Hard work,” he said. “I grew up with the best role models any person could possibly have – my dad (Mike) and my mom (Leslie). They are the two hardest working people I’ve ever seen. They go about their work every day, trying to make me and my three brothers happy. That’s pretty much how they’ve lived their life, and I think that’s where I got my own hard work ethic – just watching them. I feel so fortunate and so blessed to have such great parents and three brothers (older brother Eric and younger brothers Brett and Derek) that I can look up to. It’s a great thing.”
9) Alex can help his Kansas City Royals’ teammates understand why Big Red fans will cheer for them just like they cheer for him. “You know what’s amazing?” Alex asks. “I think every time I’ve been on a road trip or played in a spring training game, there has always been at least one Husker fan in the stands. That’s happened virtually every time during my pro career, yet I don’t remember seeing any other college fans doing that. They’re always wearing red and yelling and waving and saying Go Big Red! Everybody on the Royals always gives me a hard time about how many times Nebraska fans cheer me on. They all know why Nebraska’s fan base is so great. They’re always there, and they support all my teammates, too. So that’s good.”
10) Alex loves all the hubbub and activity he sees every time he comes back to his hometown. Since Nebraska’s baseball season conflicts with his own season, Gordon follows from afar the programs that will carry his name on the shared training complex. “I wish I could see some games,” he said, “but it’s really difficult. Lincoln’s already a good town, and you see it get better almost every time you come back. I see a lot of football with my friends, even though sometimes we don’t even make it into the stadium. We have our own tailgate spot and now we’re talking about our families, plus the new basketball arena. That’s really impressive. We have some good coaches and that place is going to rock. I’m looking forward to that.”
And yes, he’s excited about the 2013 regular season with the Royals. “Any time you want to improve you begin with starting pitching, and Dayton (Moore, the Royals’ general manager) has helped us a lot. He’s gone out and gotten some arms. We have a lot of younger guys and older guys mixing together and getting close. I know it’s only spring training, but it’s going well and it’s been a great atmosphere in the club house. We’re looking forward to opening the season against Chicago.” Gordon is also looking forward to seeing more and more Huskers in the stands this spring, summer and fall. “They’re always there cheering for you, win or lose,” he said. “That’s why they’re the best fans in the world.”
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