JEFF TERPKO (PART I): THE EARLY YEARS — HIS PARENTS, THE EAST SIDE, AND SIGNS OF THINGS TO COME (2017-08-10)
By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
SAYRE — On June 2, 1977, Jeff Terpko walked off the mound at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium for what would be the final time in his Major League Baseball career.
Terpko played for parts of three seasons in the Majors — two for the Texas Rangers and one for the Montreal Expos. He pitched in 48 games, posting a 3-4 record with a 3.14 ERA in 80 1/3 career innings.
The son of John and Julia Terpko, Jeff Terpko grew up on the “East Side” of Sayre, and believes his childhood played a big part in his success.
“We were always playing something — baseball, football, basketball … there were a lot of kids there, so we never had a problem getting a game going.
“We would play football in the street,” he laughed. “You would come home every night bleeding, that’s just the way it was.
“The kids from the East Side and Milltown were as tough as nails,” Terpko.
His father, a tremendous athlete in his own right, was very supportive of his athletic endeavors. His mother, at least at first, not as much.
“I was an only child, and my mother was very protective of me,” said Terpko.
As a matter of fact, his mother nearly scuttled his baseball career before it even began.
“I was with one of my friends and his parents and we went to sign up to play on the ‘farm team,’” noted Terpko.
“My friend’s father told the coach ‘you should get this boy on your team.’ We practiced and the coach said he definitely wanted me on the team, but when I got home, my mother wouldn’t sign the papers — that’s how protective of me she was.
“My friend’s father signed my papers to get me on the team, and that’s how I got my start,” added Terpko.
It wouldn’t be the only time some questionable paperwork would play a part in Terpko’s baseball career.
While his mother was over-protective at first, she would later become his biggest fan, and years later would be the major reason he made it to the Big Leagues.
As for his father, Terpko didn’t know much about his athletic exploits until after a newspaper article following his death shed more light on them.
“My father didn’t talk about it, but he was a tremendous athlete,” said Terpko. “I learned more about him after he died than I ever knew when he was alive.”
In an article that appeared in The Evening Times shortly after his death, Sports Editor Paul Seibel wrote that “John Terpko could have been the greatest all-around athlete ever at Sayre High School if he had been so inclined.
“He chose to participate just in basketball and track.
“John could kick a football half the distance of the field. He could throw it just as far. He was 6-2 and strong, the ideal build for an end.”
Seibel went on to write that John Terpko made a name for himself in Pennsylvania in 1937.
“He was the fastest white man in the state. He was considered Olympic material. Breaking 10 seconds in the 100-yard dash was common. In the spring of 1937 he registered times of 9.8 twice, and an eye-popping record 9.6 seconds. This all happened in a three-week span.”
John Terpko won the 100- and 220-yard dashes, and the shot put at the SVIAA meet that year, then won the District 4 gold in the 100, and went on to finish third at States.
The elder Terpko later turned down a full ride for track & field to the University of Pittsburgh.
Jeff Terpko sees a lot of the same athletics traits in himself.
“Reading that article about my father was like looking in a mirror,” Jeff Terpko.
More importantly was the way his father approached his upbringing in terms of his athletics.
“My father wasn’t the yelling or screaming type,” said Jeff Terpko. “Whether I had a good day or a bad day, my father said there’s always tomorrow. He kept me on an even keel.
“My father would tell me the way it was,” he said. “He never pushed me to do anything. He told me to play what makes me happy. I tried to be the same way with my kids.
“I’ve seen parents push their kids to play a sport, and either the kid burns out, or he’s not interested and either way it’s a waste of time.
“I was fortunate that my father was the way he was,” he added.
Terpko’s early years on the diamond were what you would expect. He was dominant.
When he was 12, Sayre’s team came closer to playing in Williamsport at the Little League World Series than any other Valley team ever has.
“We missed going to Williamsport by one game,” he said. “We lost to Chambersburg in a single-elimination tournament — there was no pool play like there is today.”
Terpko made an immediate impact on the Sayre baseball program in his freshman season, and was immediately the ace of the staff.
He said his father gave him some sage advice after his freshman year on the varsity baseball diamond.
“I played football my freshman year, then my father sat me down and said I could get busted up if I kept playing, and that I had a chance to go somewhere playing baseball.
“It was tough, all my buddies were playing and tried to get me to play, but I always made up some excuse not to play,” he said. “I knew my father was right.”
Despite his success that first year on varsity, Terpko, in hindsight, knows something was missing.
“Everything came naturally to me. I went from one sport to another and it all came easy to me,” said Terpko. “But, when everything comes natural, you don’t push yourself.”
The missing ingredient for Terpko, and the Sayre baseball program, would be introduced into the mix in the spring of 1966 — first-year varsity coach Ralph Hendershot.
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