|JEFF TERPKO (PART II): ROOKIE SAYRE BASEBALL COACH RALPH HENDERSHOT PROVES TO BE JUST WHAT TERPKO NEEDS (2017-08-11)
By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
SAYRE — In the spring of 1966, Jeff Terpko was the sophomore ace of the Sayre pitching staff, and Ralph Hendershot, fresh out of Wilkes College, was the new Redskin baseball coach.
Terpko would become the best player to ever don a Redskin baseball uniform, and Hendershot would become the longest-tenured (31 years) and winningest coach (more than 350 wins) in the program’s history.
Terpko said he and his new coach — Ralph Hendershot, who would become lifelong friends, got off to a rather inauspicious start.
“I can still remember one of the first times I met Ralph,” said Terpko. “He came to Sayre right out of college. He was in great shape and had been playing semi-pro ball.
“We were at high school baseball practice on the old Coleman Field,” he noted. “Ralph tells me he wants me to throw him a few. So, he gets in the (batter’s) box to take a few swings. I’m pretty cocky, I want to see what he’s got.
“I threw him about three pitches and he takes me out on to Hayden Street,” laughs Terpko. “All my buddies are laughing and Ralph says ‘come on, let’s go.’
“About three more pitches and he takes me on up there on to Hayden Street again,” said Terpko. “I thought ‘that’s enough of that,’ and I buzzed him.
“It was a stupid thing to do because he had no helmet on, but I buzzed him and he went flat on his backside,” said Terpko. “He got up and said ‘did you have enough?’ and I said, ‘did you?’
“After that, we had a wonderful relationship. I respected him as a coach, but there was more to it than that,” he added.
Terpko said Hendershot became the driving force behind his journey to the Major Leagues.
“The older I get and the more I think about it, the more I realize how much Ralph Hendershot changed my life,” he said. “Ralph was way ahead of his time.
“The best part is that years later, I realized why he pushed us so hard — and he pushed me even harder than the rest,” noted Terpko. “He use to run us in the old gym until guys were puking. He’d sit there in his chair and tell us to keep going.
“I never knew how much that would effect me later in my playing days. It prepared me for the next level,” he said. “We had never run before in high school. We never thought we had to be in the best possible shape to play high school baseball.
“I had just cruised through until Ralph got to Sayre, and that’s the worse thing you can do,” added Terpko. “He pushed me like no one else ever has. He brought out the best in me.”
Terpko said Hendershot stressed the basics.
“Ralph said, ‘I don’t care how hard you throw, you have to know how to pitch,’ said Terpko. “He emphasized throwing strikes. There’s a difference between a pitcher and a thrower.
“The game has changed a lot since I played, but the most important thing for a pitcher is still throwing strikes.
“It was all about the basics with Ralph,” added Terpko. “He played small ball and forced the other team to make mistakes — that’s what he taught us. He always felt if you were going to wait around for the three-run home run, you weren’t going to win anything.”
Hendershot also offered some long-lasting advice to his young ace.
“Ralph (Hendershot) told me to stay focused, and not to listen to anything from the crowd or the opposing dugouts. I learned at a real young age to block all that stuff out, and that paid big dividends in the years to come.”
In the spring of 1967, Terpko had a postseason for the ages.
In a span of five days, Terpko pitched a pair of 13-inning complete games — in the District 4 semifinal and championship games no less — and fanned 57 batters in the process, including 31 in a 1-0 win over Berwick in the district title game.
“We played 13 innings in Towanda on Monday and beat NEB, 3-2, and I pitched all 13 innings,” said Terpko. “Gary Munn got a hit right before me and was on second base, and I hit a home run into the bleachers in the old Towanda field in the bottom of the 13th.
“On Friday, we went to Williamsport and beat Berwick 1-0 in 13 innings, and I pitched all 13 innings again.
“I’m all for pitch counts now, but I always picked on Ralph before he passed. I told him they would have put him in jail for what he did to me,” laughed Terpko. “I must have thrown 250 pitches in that game. It was crazy, but it didn’t really phase me at all.”
In September of 2012, Hendershot was inducted onto the Coaches Wall of Fame at the Lockhart Street Bowl. During his remarks that day, Hendershot spoke glowingly of Terpko.
"We were the Northern Division champ and we played the Southern Division champ, Berwick, at historic Bowman Field in Williamsport.
"We played under the lights and that was quite an experience for our boys because none of them had ever played under the lights before," said Hendershot. "It was an 8 o'clock start and ended about 1 a.m. It was a 13-inning game … a real pitcher's duel — probably the finest high school game I've ever seen.
"Jeff Terpko had 31 strikeouts in the game and the boy from Berwick (Dave Mulharder) had 21. Jeff (Terpko) hit a sacrifice fly in the (top of the) 13th to win it," added Hendershot.
"Jeff (Terpko) also pitched a game against Towanda that season and had 21 strikeout in seven innings," remarked Hendershot. "He was something else."
Terpko said part of his success was due to the era in which he played, well before video was commonplace, and light years before the Internet made scouting easy.
“I had never faced Berwick, they didn’t know me from Adam.
“I threw about 95 in high school, but when I warmed up I might have thrown the ball about 80 or 82,” he said. “You always have to try to find an edge, and that was my edge.
“Years later, (Berwick pitcher) Dave Mulharder told me after I threw the first pitch to their lead-off hitter, he looked in the dugout and his eyes were as big as saucers,” laughed Terpko.
Unfortunately, for Terpko and the Redskins, district titles were the ultimate prize during his playing days.
“There were no state playoff, that was it,” said Terpko. “We were done for the year.”
A year later, the tide turned against the Redskins.
“We made a bunch of errors and lost to Berwick in the championship game my senior year,” said Terpko.
Several years later, Terpko and Mulharder would write another chapter in the Sayre legend’s life story — this time as teammates.
““We roomed together in AAA at Spokane,” said Terpko.
“He went to college, then Texas drafted him,” he noted. “It was funny, I didn’t remember him.
“He came up to me at spring training and asked me if I remembered him, and I said ‘no,” added Terpko. “He said ‘you should, we hooked up against each other at Berwick,’ I said, ‘you have to be kidding me.’
“It is a small world.”
In PART III, the baseball world proves to be especially small as Terpko gets drafted and works his way toward the Big Leagues.
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