I do not intend to evoke the exploits of the good man from Gradisco on the track of the La Rinconada racecourse, when he became the first colt in history to win the triple crown of horse racing in Venezuela, and to date the only one capable of winning seventeen consecutive races. . Nor did I sit next to Oscar Armao Mendoza to follow the trail of his coverage of horse racing, his specialty and his reason for being in the pages of the newspaper El Nacional. I only intend to reconnect with the place where our affection for baseball arose, and above all, pitcher Sandy Koufax.
In the early 1959s, he was a baseball neophyte. Only racehorses were able to keep me up at night, as Gradisco did between 1960 and 10 when he was just a boy of about XNUMX years old. Pictures of him adorned school notebooks, and cut out, they made up fictions of races competing on imaginary tracks. Until one bad day, Gradisco broke his leg while he was running on the La Rinconada track driven by Manuel Camacaro. It was the beginning of the end of our love for horses, and our admiration for baseball players. And feelings distributed forever, between Gradisco and Koufax.
"The history of the first triple crowned horse racing national is wrapped in a halo of magic," says Blanca Elena Pantin G. in the memoirs of the family published in El Nacional. "Indeed, he debuted at the racetrack like any "neighbor's son", but when he beat Round Tree, the crack of La Rinconada, in his third outing on the track, then people and specialists began to be interested in the origin of that thoroughbred who had as a sign, a white star on his forehead.
Behind that commotion were us. Every Sunday afternoon, we settled in front of the television to tie the races that Manuel Acosta had sealed the night before, while we anxiously awaited the appearance of Gradisco. Later I learned that he had debuted on July 11, 1959, and to my pride as a fledgling fan, he never lost a single one of his first seventeen.
I didn't lose to anyone
“Gradisco had plenty in 1960”, we heard Armao say, in one of those talks that are usually organized from time to time in sports newsrooms. “In it even he not only won the triple crown and his first seventeen races undefeated. Three of them at two years old, another fourteen as a three-year-old, and only one loss, entering last at four years old. More than sixty years have passed since that feat, and I am still proud to be among his unconditional fans.
This evocation of Blanca Elena Pantin from the final race of Gradisco still moves me. “When Manuel Camacaro understood that Gradisco was not responding to him, he led him little by little. Gradisco walked through the final stretch and when he crossed the disk, he received the most thunderous applause that is remembered at the La Rinconada racecourse”.
At home, I keep a photo of José Sardá, with Manuel Camacaro on Gradisco in front of the main stage of La Rinconada, on the final ride of his career. Not a few shed several tears.
Sandy Koufax arrived
There are not a few reasons that made Sandy Koufax our favorite player in the memories of the major leagues. A memory that barely goes back a little more than six years of his twelve between 1955 and 1966. Among the most renowned, three games without hits or runs, a perfect challenge, three “Cy Young” awards, 40 shutouts, five ERA leaders , three seasons with more than 300 strikeouts, top most strikeouts in the National League with 382 in 1965, 165 wins. National League MVP in 1963 and World Series MVP in 1963 and 1965.
I learned of Koufax's existence by accident. Beginning of the decade of 1962. I was already aware of the collection of cards from the Topps chain that that year reached the stores of Venezuela. In which the Gran Colombia school store was located, the collection that we obtained for a bolivar and four card decks arrived. In one of them was Koufax's. He highlighted that he had been the first in the National with a mark of 269 strikeouts. A Record... From that day I began to follow in his footsteps, season after season.