DON LARSEN: Happy at home in North Idaho

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BRIAN WALKER/Press Buddies Don Larsen, left, from Hayden Lake and the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter and perfect game in World Series history, and Post Fallsí Lyle Ekness pose at Ekness Catering recently. Ekness is donning a jacket with the autographs of Larsen, David Cone and David Wells, the three Yankee pitchers who have pitched a perfect game.

By BRIAN WALKER

Staff Writer

At 88, New York Yankee pitching icon Don Larsen is still accepting honors for his 15-year Major League Baseball career.

The low-key Hayden Lake resident was recently named to the Hall of Fame for the St. Louis Browns, the first Major League Baseball team he played for, in 1953.

"I didnít expect it to happen," said Larsen, best known for being the only pitcher to toss a no-hitter and perfect game in World Series history ó for the Yankees against Brooklyn in Game 5 in 1956.

"I was surprised how many supporters we have left, but there's not too many players because we lose them all the time,Ē Larsen said. ďWe lost two of the good guys ó Ned Garver and Roy Sievers who also played with St. Louis ó this year."

During his rookie season with the Browns, Larsen finished first on the team in innings pitched and complete games and was second in strikeouts. He also broke the MLB record for pitchers by having seven consecutive hits at one point.

Larsen said he still tries to make it to annual Yankee and Brown events such as old-timer games. Those were two of the seven teams he played for.

"Us old-timers have a pretty good time when we go back and set up signings," he said. "I canít make it all the time, but once a year at least."

Larsen said he's the last living "Brownie" from the St. Louis team he played on and the last starter left from both teams during his perfect game.

"That carries a little weight by itself, but I'm just not sure how much," he said with a smile. "The last one to go was Yogi (Berra, who caught for Larsen) in 2015. It's lonesome when you get to the top."

With family and friends in the area, Larsen said heís been content living in North Idaho for more than 20 years.

"One home is enough," he said. "We donít need dual spots. We donít travel from the snow. Itís going to catch up with you anyway."

These days Larsen said heís feeling "pretty good."

"I canít do a whole lot," he said, adding that he had back surgery. "Itís hard for me to get around like I used to, but I still like to fish. Iím ready for it when it happens."

When asked where his favorite fishing spot is, Larsen said, "Anywhere thatís wet, but where we live (Hayden Lake) is a good fishing lake."

Larsen also enjoys going frogging in California.

Larsen, known for his fun-loving spirit and enjoyment of the nightlife as a player that earned him the nickname "Gooneybird," still likes to enjoy a drink.

"Damn right I do," he said with a smile.

Larsen said heís always valued his friendships in this area, from a former MLB player he played against in Rocky Bridges to Post Falls catering business owner Lyle Ekness (who shares a birthday with Larsen) and his family. He said his public appearances are getting sparse.

"Iíve had a good life because Iíve surrounded myself with good people," he said.

Larsen and his wife of 60 years, Corrine, were attracted to the more laid-back lifestyle of North Idaho than big cities, and Larsen got a taste of it when heíd come to Spokane to play minor league baseball.

Larsen encourages young athletes to never give up on working hard to get better, whether itís in the classroom or on the field.

"Keep on working hard and something good will happen," he said. "It doesnít have to be sports ó it could be your marriage ó because all those are rather important."

Larsenís career MLB record was 81-91, but his World Series gem is one of only 23 perfect games in MLB history. A perfect game is 27 batters up, 27 batters down with no runs, walks or errors.

It remained the only no-hitter of any type in postseason play until Philadelphiaís Roy Halladay tossed a no-hitter in 2010 in the National League Division Series.

Larsen needed just 97 pitches to toss the perfect game, a feat he remembers vividly that earned him the World Series Most Valuable Player.

"I had great control," he said, recalling the game that ended with Berra leaping into his arms in a photographed iconic moment. "I think about it all the time. I was very nervous. I probably havenít woke up yet."

Larsen said he didnít learn that he was pitching that day until he arrived at the ballpark.

"There was a ball in my shoe," he said. "It all worked out OK."

The nod made Larsen take a "big gulp," especially after heíd blown a 6-0 lead in Game 2, which was a 13-6 Yankee loss.

Larsen said he takes his fame in stride, but having people bring up that magical game never gets old.

"I didnít ask for all of this," he said. "It came with the territory, and I try to treat it as such. Iíve enjoyed meeting a lot of nice people and having fun. Itís important to live a little if your health is OK."

Larsen said he doesnít think too much if any other pitcher will ever throw a perfect game in the World Series.

"It doesnít matter," he said. "They canít break it anyway. All they can do is tie it."

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