Higgins lived his dream

Dennis Higgins lived his dream.

He went from Jefferson City to baseball’s major leagues.

For that, Higgins was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday at the Capitol Plaza Hotel.

“I’m really surprised because it’s been a long time since I quit,” Higgins said of the induction. “It’s kind of a capper on a major-league career, to be honest with you. It’s an honor and I appreciate it.”

Higgins broke into the major leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 1966 and also pitched for the Washington Senators, Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals. He retired in 1972 with a record of 22-23 in 241 games, finishing with a 3.42 ERA, 339 strikeouts and 46 saves in 4101⁄3 innings of work.

Higgins will never forget when he first made it to the majors with the White Sox.

“I went to spring training in 1966 with the major-league club, made the club,” he said. “From there on, that was it. We opened up at home and then we had a day off. I asked the manager (Eddy Stanky), ‘If you don’t mind, I’d like to go home.’ I had made plans to get married. He said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine. As soon as the game’s over, get on out of here.’ But we went 14 innings and I missed my flight. Got home at five in the morning, got married at noon and turned around and flew back to Chicago.”

Higgins pitched on opening day that first season against the California Angels, tossing 22⁄3 scoreless innings with five strikeouts. He allowed one hit.

Higgins’ seven seasons in the majors left him with memories to last a lifetime. One in particular stands out.

“The first time I faced Mickey Mantle in Yankee Stadium,” he said. “It was a big thrill. That time I struck him out. He hit two of them off the wall against me, too.”

Growing up a Cardinals fan, it was a thrill for Higgins to spend his final two years in St. Louis. He remembers playing with St. Louis icons such as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Joe Torre.

“At the time, it really wasn’t any big deal,” Higgins said. “Looking back now on it, after all the things they’ve done, I’m glad and proud that I did.”

Above all, he cherishes meeting Stan Musial.

“As a kid, Stan Musial was my idol,” Higgins said. “He came into the clubhouse all the time. He’d come up to you and talk. He’d shake your hand and he wouldn’t let loose until he was through talking. He was really funny.”

Playing a year under manager Ted Williams in Washington was a career highlight, too.

“I’ll never forget that one,” Higgins said.

Higgins claims fellow inductees Joe Crede and Keith Weber as relatives. With a good number of family members in attendance, including a posse of grandchildren sporting No. 41 White Sox shirts, it was quite a celebration for Higgins.

“It’s kind of like a family reunion,” he said.

With enough memories and friendships to last a lifetime, Higgins made a few more Sunday at the ceremony.

“It was a dream come true,” he said.

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