Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
The Great One was walking toward the parking lot. It was halfway through a high school championship golf match. I recognized him instantly and I knew exactly what to say.
“Lee Calkins says to say hello,” I said.
This was surprising to the man, who was scurrying off to the parking lot. Something about an appointment he couldn’t miss.
He’d been faster on a pair skates. Wayne Gretzky, who couldn’t have been more shocked, said, “What is Lee doing nowadays?”
I told him that Lee was the main photographer for a newspaper in Redlands.
Gretzky was in a hurry to leave. His son, Trevor, was playing golf for Oaks Christian High — a school way out in Los Angeles County. The team was good, too. The Great One had to show up to support his kid.
This was the National Hockey League’s greatest scorer. Arguments can be made that he’s the NHL’s greatest player.
Calkins, hired by the Redlands newspaper (at my recommendation, following a tryout), had sort of a fabled career in shooting sports.
For openers, he’d once worked for Topps, the baseball card company, shooting major leaguers for their annual bubble gum cards.
There always seemed to be something coming out of Lee’s mouth about Nolan Ryan. Then with the Angels, Lee caught the Ryan Express at Anaheim Stadium often enough.
“I’ll you this,” said Calkins. “I don’t think Nolan Ryan threw 100 miles an hour.”
Well, Lee, uh, you see, it’s kind of well-documented.
“Speed guns weren’t that accurate in those days,” said Calkins.
I’d shoot back. “You’re challenging the fact that Ryan threw 100 miles an hour?”
He paused and smiled. “I think he threw 125 miles an hour.”
You try to look for signs that he was kidding. There were no smiles. Maybe a little smirk. It was true, he was saying.
The other note about Calkins was the few years he’d spent shooting the Los Angeles Kings.
Then owned by Bruce McNall.
Then coached by Barry Melrose.
Players on that team included the phenomenal Marty McSorley, Luc Robitaille, defenseman Rob Blake, Jari Kurry. The goalie, of course, was Kelly Hrudey. Hockey history soared in L.A. during that era.
There was also, of course, Gretzky.
It should’ve come as no surprise that the Kings, during the 1992-93 season, skated into the Stanley Cup against the Montreal Canadiens. Only a few years earlier, Gretzky, McSorley & Co. had lifted the Edmonton Oilers to unbelievable heights.
McNall bought the Kings.
Nick Beverley, deputized by McNall to be an aggressive general manager, was turned loose.
L.A. took an all-out assault on the NHL. Players were acquired to turn the Kings into contenders.
Watching from the front row glass was none other than Calkins, who sped down the freeway from Redlands during those years.
There was Calkins, his lenses shining against the L.A. Forum ice in search those hockey shots.
There were a couple pages of Calkins’ in a coffee table book, “A Day in the NHL.”
Every arena was shot by someone. Calkins had the Forum.
I remember Lee saying, “The Kings were a rough team in those years. They led the NHL in penalty minutes.”
Remember, this is coming from a recreational player who donned the mask and gloves, playing goalie.
It was right around the year 2009, I think, when Gretzky and I came face to face. Never before. Never again.
“Will you do me a favor?” Gretzky asked that day.
“Tell him I said hello.”
Sounded Lee Calkins’ name was probably the only way to get his attention.