Garth Brooks’ WTF Athletic Exploits: Collegiate Javelin, Olympic Wrestling & Pro Baseball

by Jim Casey
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I went down a rabbit hole on Tuesday. When I came up for air on Thursday, I had so much information in my head that I just had to share it with the Garth-loving world.

Yes, this is about Troyal Garth Brooks (you should have gleaned that from the title). A simple Google search to confirm the spelling of his first name brought me here. Now’s your chance to exit this ride, because we’re about to embark on a trip of Garthonian proportions.

Now, everything I’m about to tell you, you may already know. I did. Even before I went down the hole. I knew each factoid independently. The puzzle pieces were just that—pieces. When I unconsciously began tethering the pieces together, the picture became unbelievable, even by Garth standards.

Garth’s country music resume is unparalleled (best-selling solo artist of all time, seven CMA Entertainer of the Year Awards, etc.). However, Garth’s athletic resume is also unrivaled. Yes, this is the first article (to my knowledge) about Troyal Garth Brooks:

  • Collegiate javelin thrower
  • Olympic wrestler (sorta)
  • Pro baseball player

Troyal Throws: 1980–1983

Quick! Name two javelin throwers. Garth Brooks and Michael Landon (yep, before he was Bonanza‘s “Little” Joe Cartwright, he was heaving javelins for USC). Now, if you said Czech great Jan Zelezny and NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, you’ve really wasted your life as a javelin know-it-all. But kudos.

Garth played football (quarterback/tight end) and baseball player at Yukon High School in central Oklahoma. He obviously had a pretty strong arm. When he attended Oklahoma State University in Stillwater (1980–1983), the G-man transitioned to javelin and earned a partial track-and-field scholarship.

While Garth was throwing spears during the day, he was dreaming of a country music career during nighttime gigs at Wild Willy’s.

“The javelin wasn’t at all for me,” said Garth to Country Weekly magazine in 1996. “It was for the good guys who would eat, sleep, and think javelin. They’d work on it all the time and didn’t consider it work. Me, just hauling that damn thing down the runway was work.”

Dick Weis, Garth’s track and field coach during his final year, agreed with Garth’s assessment. “He was okay,” said Weis to CW. “He was adequate, he wasn’t outstanding, he wasn’t terrible…he was just a good kid. Garth came to practice all the time. We never had any problems with him.”

Garth’s personal best throw was 211 feet. Jan Zelezny’s? 323 feet. But you javelin know-it-alls already knew that.

Garth Grapples: 1992 & 1996

Now here’s where things get truly bizarre. And this factoid, well, I knew this one back in the 1990s because I had the damn poster. But I never really understood the why. Obviously, we didn’t have Wikipedia in the 1990s, and this nugget sure as hell wasn’t showing up in the World Book Encyclopedia. Actually, I can’t find any record of it on Wikipedia, either. Nevertheless, Garth Brooks was the honorary captain of the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Wrestling Teams.

Before you check out the 1996 poster below—and that’s a must—allow me to rattle off the names without even looking: (from l-r) Kevin Jackson, Dennis Hall, Bruce Baumgartner, Kurt Angle, and Terry Brands. Of course, Garth is center (and the only one not wearing a singlet). Proceeds from the poster benefited USA Wrestling.

As a wrestler myself (hence why I owned the poster), I had always just assumed Garth stepped on a wrestling mat at some point during his childhood in Oklahoma (maybe he did). Everyone from Oklahoma wrestles at some point in their lives, whether it’s on the mat or in the rodeo. I’m from Tennessee. That’s what we believe.

The actual Garth-wrestling connection is rooted in his time at OK State, which was an NCAA wrestling powerhouse during Garth’s collegiate tenure (before and beyond, as well).

Once again, a 1996 issue of Country Weekly magazine provides us with some insight—although brief.

“Garth has been very good for our sport, both as a spokesman, as well as behind the scenes,” said Bruce Baumgartner (4X Olympic medalist), who was a graduate assistant wrestling coach at OK State from 1982–84. “Several of us got to know him when he was at Oklahoma State and have stayed in touch. He’s invited us backstage to some of his concerts, and he is just a great guy.”

While not featured on the poster, Kenny Monday was also on the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Team (and 1988 Team). Kenny attended OK State during Garth’s stint, too. They even lived on the same floor in the dorm, where Garth “learned some valuable lessons.

There’s also a 1992 poster featuring Garth, Baumgartner, Kevin Jackson, and John Smith (OK State alum/Olympic royalty/current OK State coach), but that thing is like a rainbow-colored unicorn that can only be purchased with Dogecoin. I’ve never actually seen one in person.

Brooks Bats: 1999, 2000 & 2004

Alright, we’re finished with the javelin and wrestling. Let’s get to pro baseball, Garth’s most high-profile foray as a jock.

When Garth decided he wanted to start taking hacks in the box at spring training for the San Diego Padres in 1999, he had four CMA Entertainer of the Year Awards and two Grammy Awards under his belt. He was selling albums by the millions. His concerts were must-see spectacles that featured the G-man swashbuckling from ropes like Long John Silver and floating like Peter Pan. In short, he was country music’s biggest star. No question.

Garth could do no wrong (Chris Gaines wouldn’t be released until Sept. 1999). So, Garth indulged his professional baseball fantasy (remember, he was a good high school player) as he suited up for the Padres. There was also a higher purpose behind his diamond duty—raising money and awareness for his Teammates for Kids Foundation, which he founded in 1999. As a pinch hitter and left fielder for the Pads, Garth went 1 for 22 (.045 average).

Garth came back for more baseball in 2000, this time during spring training with the New York Mets (0 for 17, 4 walks). After Garth retired from touring in 2000 to spend more time with his family, he decided to get back on the field in 2004 for spring training with the Kansas City Royals. Garth, 42 at the time, legged out one infield hit off Mike Myers.

“I was even more surprised than the pitcher,” said Garth after the game. “You know, none of these guys wants to give up a hit to me. They take pride in the fact that they are not the guy who’s going to give it up. I like that.”

In 2015, Garth un-retired from country music. Massive tours, No. 1 albums, and CMA Entertainer of the Year Awards followed. Would he come back to baseball, as well? Yes, yes he would.

In 2019, Brooks suited up—maybe for the last time?—during spring training for his childhood favorites, Pittsburgh Pirates. He had no intention of taking the field. He was their to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation, which has raised more than $100 million for needy kids.

Garth Brooks with the Kansas City Royals in 2004. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

There you go. From collegiate javelin to Olympic wrestling to pro baseball, Garth’s athletic resume is unrivaled. Just like his country music career. Hope the ride didn’t burst your bubble.

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