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Monday, Nov 19, 2018
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Baseball's 'Flash' Gordon fine with retirement

Thomas "Flash" Gordon, a 21-year Major League Baseball veteran with three All-Star Game appearances and a 2008 World Series championship, walked away from professional pitching this year and discovered that life away from the big league is not the same. He's busier now. Florida Flash Baseball travel club organization, sponsored through the Thomas Gordon Foundation, is keeping him hopping. "I'm still around the game but I'm working with kids," said Gordon, who prefers to be called Thomas. "I'm not looking back on leaving baseball, I'm looking ahead to being a part of something that helps kids get the most out of their abilities."
At 43-years-old, the right-hander is physically fit and thinks he still has what it takes to pitch Major League ball. The Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals were high enough on Gordon to talk to him about getting something going this year. "I actually worked with two teams and had a really good showing, but I wasn't totally sold," he said. "I was in the major leagues for 21 years. That's a long time. "I had to weigh my options to see if that's what I still wanted to do. I considered what was most important to me." Being a part of MLB means being away from your family while your kids grow up without you. The schedule and travel is grueling. Most importantly, he said, although he loves the game, he's going to be a parent a lot longer than a baseball player. "I got tired," he said. "Last year I think I was in Arizona for eight months before I was able to come to Florida for two days. I didn't see my kids nearly as much as I'd like and that took a toll on me. I made the decision to walk away." It's been four months since Gordon made his choice and he's not sorry, he said, although he has sad moments now and then. "It's tough to let go," he said. "When February rolled around, I was kind of antsy. I miss the competitiveness and I miss my teammates. "But overall I enjoy being away from MLB. There's a lot I still have to learn about mentoring kids and I'm working on that, but I have a lot of good people around me." Gordon has been lucky to have good people around him his whole career. Mel Stottlemyre, the Yankees' pitching coach, was probably the most instrumental, he said. Boston Red Sox pitching coach Joe Kerrigan made an impact, and Jerry Cram from the Kansas City Royals organization was the first pitching coach he ever had in professional baseball. Cram is just as good a friend today as he was back then, Gordon said, and Cram will be helping out with Florida Flash Baseball. Big-league tales As a young starter, Gordon's catcher was seven-time All-Star Bob Boone. Gordon remembers learning respect for Boone pretty quickly. "I shook off Bob Boone once," Gordon said. "He told me after the game, 'Don't ever shake me off again, Flash.' I said, 'Yes, sir.' "I think I thought I should throw my curve ball at that time and Boone knew better. He was right. I tell you, 95 percent of the time, Boone was right on it with me. He helped me understand the game." In an often-repeated quote, Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley said about Gordon, "You want to know why he's been good? Two reasons: a 95-mile-per-hour fastball and a hook from hell." Gordon chuckled. 'Eck' was one of his favorite Boston teammates, he said. "I knew I was there to learn about being a closer from Eck, and I needed to learn from Eck," he said. "I wasn't absolutely sold on being a closer and I remember Eck making that exact same statement to me. "He said, 'Flash, two pitches is all you need. With a 95-mph fastball and that hook from hell, you'll be all right.' I said, 'Eck, you know what? I think I'm sold. I think I can get back to being a two-pitch pitcher'." Another former Red Sox teammate, catcher Mike Stanley, said Gordon was an effective closer because he was similar to Roger Clemens coming out of the bullpen to face three hitters. "Mike was one of my favorite teammates as well," Gordon said. "He was a really good catcher." Gordon laughed. "I remember Mike once coming out on the mound and telling me, 'Whatever you do, don't shake me off'," Gordon said. "I said, 'Well, why?' "Mike said, 'Just don't shake me off, Flash. I want to look like I'm smart here'." Gordon learned a lot from future Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera during his time with the New York Yankees. "Mo and I had a great time," Gordon said. "They said we were the best two closers in baseball for a long time. I learned how to be a great set-up guy, and if Mariano needed a day off, I was the guy. He could count on me. "Mo was probably the greatest closer to ever pitch the game and he did it with one pitch. He had a cut fastball and he could do whatever he wanted with it. Inside, outside, up and down; it never did the same thing. He'd throw it 95 mph, then 88." In the last few years, Gordon was one of the veteran players the league would meet with to talk about up-and-coming players. The league respected his opinion, he said. They knew he'd put his time in and had never had any off-the-field issues that embarrassed the league. "All those guys I was around were instrumental in helping me understand my abilities and get the most out of them," he said. "When you're around good people, you're going to give out good vibes. "When you're young, you see so many things, the things you see, you have to decide 'that's for me, and that's not.' I've never drank alcohol a day in my life, so even though those things were there, it wasn't important to me because I didn't understand them anyway." Once he started recognizing what some of the people around the clubhouse and women in the hotel bars were offering, he was able to make the right choices on his own, he said. "I knew the good decision was not to get myself in trouble because someday my kids were going to be watching me and my mom already watches everything," he said, laughing. "My mother's arms and doors are always open to me, but she is a parent first." Family ties Mom Annie Gordon and Dad Thomas Gordon still live in Avon Park, and Gordon's heart is right there with them. "I'm an Avon Park Red Devil for life," he said. "We were raised honestly. My parents had respect and gave us respect. They were fair and loving. To me, that was more rich than anything else I could have had. "What my parents did is amazing. On what little we had, they made everything work. It seemed like we had more than we needed." His mom is a strong woman, and did a good job with all her kids. It was tough to disappoint her, Gordon said, considering all she did for him, his four brothers and one sister. "I built my mom a house and that was a thrill for me because she deserved it," Gordon said. "She enjoyed it. We made sure she had nice Jacuzzi tubs in every room. She could take a bath in any room of the house if she wanted. "We were trying to surprise her, but she took all the wallpaper down and redecorated the whole thing." Gordon's parents have since divorced, but he credits his father with teaching him everything he knows about baseball. By the time he realized he had a chance to be a professional athlete, he knew what his strengths were. Gordon owns a Ford dealership with his brothers, and sure enough, three Ford vehicles were parked in the circular drive of his stucco-roofed, castle-like home near Orlando. "My mom and dad stressed teamwork and working hard," Gordon said. "They stressed that, as siblings, we should consult with each other and help each other out. When everybody's pulling a rope from one end, usually you can get yourself a win. "Our parents didn't have a lot, they weren't able to give us a lot, but we couldn't tell. We had no idea that we weren't wealthy. We had it all in one small house." Gordon was named All State Pitcher of the Year his senior year at Avon Park. He never won a state championship and that's something he regrets, he said. "I wish I'd had a chance to be part of a state championship, especially in Avon Park the way we were winning," he said. "Coach Ronnie Jackson was such a good coach and we had such a good organization." Gordon is the father of three boys and three girls. Tamasha, 24, is the oldest, and Devaris Strange-Gordon, the Los Angeles Dodgers 4th-round pick in the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft, is the second-oldest. The 22-year-old shortstop is the Dodgers best prospect, Gordon said. He was named MVP of the Midwest League, selected to its mid-season and post-season All-Star teams and selected Prospect of the Year. Yolanda Maloy, Gordon's partner for 16 years, is the mother of Thomas, 18; Nicholas, 14; and Cameran, 11. Gordon's favorite room in his house is his office. Filled with memorabilia he's collected over the years, his favorite trophies are the numerous awards his son Nicholas has won. "I had this cabinet built just to hold Nicholas' trophies," Gordon said. "He doesn't mind if I keep them -- he told me he'd have plenty more by the time he was through." Included in his memorabilia is a copy of Stephen King's book The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. The book is in Japanese. New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui gave it to him, Gordon said. He was pretty surprised when King contacted him. "He was a Red Sox fan, but he happened to be in Florida when we were," Gordon said. "I was in the clubhouse when they told me, 'Stephen King is on the phone and wants to talk to you.' "He came over and we talked. Stephen's out there. Our conversation was out there. It's not that he's weird, he just thinks out loud. He talks about what's in his head. He's a good man, I enjoyed meeting him."
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