Kirk Gibson scored Thursday, and he didn't even have...

By MIKE TULLY, UPI National Baseball Writer

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Kirk Gibson scored Thursday, and he didn't even have to slide.

The Detroit Tigers' slugging right fielder hit aviation's equivalent of a World Series home run, setting an unofficial altitude record for planes in his class.


Gibson, a student pilot, and partner Bob Lark took a Cessna 206 some 25,200 feet above Lakeland Municipal Airport, more than 5,000 feet higher than the previous record and not quite as high as Lark wanted.

'We didn't know what to expect,' Gibson said after shaking hands with Lark on the runway after the flight. 'We didn't expect any problems and we didn't have any problems.

'The aircraft performed great, the oxygen worked great. When we got up there, Bob wanted to go higher, but we had said 25,000 so that's what we stayed at.'

To attempt the record, Gibson asked Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson for a day off from spring training. Anderson granted it, even kidding his right fielder to climb 'until I couldn't get any more oxygen.'


Gibson and Lark left in Gibson's planeat about 11:20 a.m. EST at the Sun 'N Fun Fly-In.

Lark piloted, handling both the takeoff and landing. They said they stayed at 25,000 feet for at least five minutes. In the STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) format, both the takeoff and landing must occur within a 600-foot strip.

'We had to take off in less than 600 feet but we set our own goals of 400 feet -- take off and land within 400 feet -- and to my knowledge we've accomplished both,' Lark said.'

Altitude and takeoff information goes to Washington for verification, but neither aviator showed any sign of concern.

Wearing sunglasses, sneakers, jeans and a gray sweatshirt with 'Detroit Tigers' on the front, Gibson suggested the ballclub doesn't mind him risking his body high over the Florida skies.

'I haven't violated any agreements in my contract,' Gibson said. 'I don't see why they should care. I'll be ready to play baseball again tomorrow. It is my No. 2 priority, my family being No. 1.'

However, the same man who hit a World Series homer off Goose Gossage admitted to being a little nervous.

'I guess I had somewhat of butterflies or whatever you want to call it,' Gibson said. 'It's different. I've never been this high in this plane. We've all flown commercial airliners a lot higher than that.


'But you don't know what might happen. If you should lose an engine or something like that up there. If anything had happened, we would have had plenty of time to take the necessary procedures to make a safe landing.'

No such emergency arose. Lark said the controls were a little sluggish, but he also said the plane could probably have hit 30,000 easily. Gibson preferred sticking with the flight plan.

'It's not as competitive as playing the game of baseball,' Gibson said. 'If someone wanted to take this plane up today, they could break it today. If somebody breaks it, that's fine. If somebody breaks it tomorrow, I'm not going to get up the next day and try to break it again.'

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