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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Five former Tigers inducted into Missouri Hall of Fame

Justin Smith cold not attend because of Super Bowl XLVII.

Five men and women shared stories of their playing careers as they were inducted into the University of Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday.

The inductees were Kinsler, Christi Myers, Justin Smith, James Taylor and Helen Wilson. Smith could not attend the ceremony as he prepared to suit up for the Super Bowl XLVII tomorrow for the San Francisco 49ers.

Ian Kinsler

He may be a three-time All-Star, but Texas Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler remembers where he really started developing his game: Missouri baseball coach Evan Pratt’s cornfield off I-63.

“I’ll always remember jumping in vans with my teammates and driving across the freeway," Kinsler said. "We used to take ground balls in an infield cut out of corn, I guess. That was great."

The ceremony included a dinner and speeches from each athlete. Kinsler talked mostly Missouri molding him into the ballplayer he is today.

“Honestly I was pretty self-absorbed at first,” Kinsler said while talking about initially arrived at Missouri. “I was concerned about getting drafted and getting to the minor leagues and pursuing what I thought was a baseball career at the time. Being around the teammates that I had. … We all came together. It was a great group of guys who loved to play the game.”

Kinsler played one year for Missouri in 2003, batting .335 with six home runs and 45 RBIs. His contributions helped the Tigers make it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years.

Coach Tim Jamieson recalled Kinsler's raw power that year.

“He was 175 pounds for us with bat speed. … But the moment when we realized he could hit for power was a game against Tennessee State,” Jamieson said. “He hit a home run that was the furthest I’ve seen in college baseball. And we wondered, ‘Where did that come from?’”

Before Missouri, Kinsler attended Central Arizona College and Arizona State University. Coach Tim Jamieson helped land Kinsler at Missouri after a visit he made with him during Kinsler’s sophomore year.

“The confidence (Jamieson) had in me was definitely reassuring,” Kinsler said. “It allowed me to come to Missouri and know what to expect as far as what position I was going to play and the role I was going to have for the team. That trip out to Arizona was big for me.”

Kinsler, a self-admitted “desert boy,” said that the cold weather in Missouri helped him prepare for the frigid temperatures in some minor league parks. He fondly recalled pulling the tarp, covered with snow and ice, off the Simmons Field while at Missouri.

Kinsler said he has been back to Columbia several times to help with fundraisers and clinics for the Missouri baseball team.

“(The Missouri baseball team also) comes out to Arizona quite a bit during spring training time," Kinsler said. "They play some tournaments out there. So I always make sure I watch a couple of games and stop by say hi."

Myers, Smith, Taylor and Wilson

Myers played volleyball and track and field from 1999-2003. Master of Ceremonies Mike Kelly credited her as one of the reasons for the reemergence of the volleyball program at Missouri. Myers was the third woman at Missouri ever to clear six feet in the high jump.

In her speech, Myers talked about how she grew up wanting to compete for Missouri. She was especially grateful for all the time and energy put back the volleyball program.

The next inductee, Smith, played defensive line for the Tigers from 1998-2000. Among a glowing list of achievements at Missouri, Smith set a school record his junior year for most tackles for loss (24) and sacks (11).

Before rolling a video tribute to Smith, Kelly commented that the defensive end could end up in the National Football Hall of Fame with his excellent playing ability in professional football, including playing 185 consecutive games.

Then, James Taylor was inducted into the Hall. Taylor played offensive line for the Tigers from 1975-1977, helping Missouri pull off major upsets over Alabama, USC, Ohio State and Nebraska.

“I’m speechless and stunned,” Taylor said. “I almost hung up the phone (when I got the call from Mike Alden) because I thought someone was playing a prank. I’m tickled to death.”

Taylor went on to play for the New Orleans Saints for 57 games. In his brief speech, which he spent holding back tears, Taylor thanked his brother and said he felt humbled to receive the award.

The final inductee, Helen Wilson, played tennis at Missouri from 1980-1982. She is the first women’s tennis player ever to be inducted into the Hall. Currently, Wilson is the director of tennis at the Kansas City Country Club.

Wilson admitted she cried when she received the call from Mike Alden about her induction. Her short speech thanked all of her coaches for believing in her and helping her shape who she is today.

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