Derek Gordon used to sit behind the home dugout at Haymarket Park and heckle the Huskers. Now, his family watches from the same spot and cheers as he stars on the very field he’d long dreamt of playing on.
Gordon’s dream of playing at Haymarket Park started when watching his brother, Alex, dominate the Big 12 with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. It grew in high school when he yearned for his Lincoln Southeast Knights to make the state tournament, which is played at Haymarket Park.
“This is the best field in Nebraska,” Gordon said. “It is (the best), 100 percent.”
But, Southeast didn’t make State and Gordon didn’t get an offer at Nebraska, so the dream was delayed. After a solid career at NAIA Park University, Gordon got his first professional chance with the Kansas City T-Bones. Fate wasn’t relenting yet, though, as his hopes to play at Haymarket Park were foiled again when he was placed on the Disabled List before the T-Bones came to town.
The lanky right-hander was eventually picked up by the Royals organization and, after a two-year stint, an opportunity to play at Haymarket Park drew Gordon to the Saltdogs last year. Finally, on the field he’d long dreamt of – the same field on which his brother became a household name – Gordon had his chance.
“When you finally step on it, it’s kind of like, ‘awe yeah I’m here, I made it,” Gordon said.
He must have liked the feeling, because he went on to have a dynamite season. Gordon was 9-4 with a 3.46 ERA and was named Saltdogs Pitcher of the Year. He made 14 starts at home where he was 7-3 with three complete games and one shutout.
It wasn’t just playing in his hometown and putting up great numbers that made the 2017 season memorable for Gordon. His family members, including his dad, Mike, were able to watch more of his games than they had in the last five years combined.
Mike Gordon died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease in February.
“It was almost like the game knew what was happening,” Gordon said. “It just kind of helped him see me on the field for the last time. Looking back on it now, I’m so glad I came here because of that exact reason.”
Gordon credits his family for much of his success on the field. While he didn’t enjoy it at the time, he says he’s thankful for being the youngest of four brothers.
“I wouldn’t say they picked on me, they just put me in my place,” Gordon said. “It made me a lot tougher.”
Manager Bobby Brown says Gordon is the most mentally tough pitcher he’s ever coached. Pitching Coach Dan Reichert, a former Major Leaguer who knows a tough pitcher when he sees one, agrees that Gordon is composed on the mound.
“He just has that charisma, that aura about him when he steps out there on the mound,” Reichert said.
Competitiveness oozes from Gordon. He compares starts to fights.
“I’m going to die before I lose and let you win,” Gordon said. “I try to think that before the games.”
There’s no place in Independent Baseball where Gordon would rather go into a fight than his dream field, with his family and his hometown in the stands.
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