From the grunts at Wimbledon to the calm of Augusta National Golf Club to the “fastest 2 minutes in sports” at the Kentucky Derby, Gerry Kataoka has experienced them all.
The 68-year-old retired pharmacist was born and raised in Kingsburg but lived much of his sports-filled life in the Bay Area before returning to the central San Joaquin Valley last year.
It is evident, though, that Kataoka isn’t content to spend his free time at home.
Throughout his Clovis home are souvenirs, photos, memorabilia and maps from the places he’s been.
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Kataoka has set foot on six continents – all except Antarctica – visiting some 45 to 50 countries (he can’t remember exactly) as well as all 50 states. When he has the opportunity, Kataoka updates his travel blog.
Sometimes he’s away for months. Last year, Kataoka spent two weeks crossing Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and in 2009, he drove most of the length of Chile with a golf buddy.
Gerry Kataoka went to his first baseball game at age 8, when he watched Willie McCovey and the San Francisco Giants at Seals Stadium. His first pro football game was watching the Los Angeles Rams in the 1950s.
But aside from just traveling, he gets his biggest kick out of live sports.
The sports junkie has attended two Super Bowls (XIX, XLVII), two NCAA Final Fours (1972, 2014), one Wimbledon (2009), one U.S. Tennis Open (1982), five Indianapolis 500s (2007-11), five World Series (1972, ’73, ’74, ’89, 2010), one Major League Baseball All-Star Game (1989), one NBA Finals (1975), the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, one Masters Tournament (2004), and one Kentucky Derby (2008).
His top five in order: Wimbledon, Kentucky Derby, Indy 500, the Masters and the NCAA Final Four.
His reason: “It’s all about the experience.”
In one case, he was drawn by the music. A longtime fan of Bruce Springsteen, Kataoka went to Dallas to watch him perform at the March Madness Music Festival in 2014, and afterward Kataoka saw the NCAA Final Four action.
Wimbledon ranks as his favorite sporting event, and not just because he saw Roger Federer break Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles, but because of his wait outside the gates in line.
I’ve met people in line that I’m still friends with.
“Waiting in line and meeting people is half the fun,” Kataoka said. “You’re a half-mile from the stadium, everyone is waiting to get in and that’s what makes it all part of the event.”
There are a few events he has yet to experience, such as golf’s British Open, the Boston Marathon, a FIFA World Cup match and a Winter Olympics.
“The sports or location will get you out there, but it’s the personal experience that you remember,” he said. “Until you go, you have no idea what people are talking about.”
Gerry Kataoka, 68, of Clovis has been to numerous world-famous sporting events in the U.S. and abroad. Here are a few of his most memorable experiences of competition.
▪ 1975: Kataoka received free tickets, saying “not many games sold out back then,” and watched Golden State win its first NBA title over the Washington Bullets at the Cow Palace in Daly City.
▪ 1979: The U.S., led by singles players John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis and doubles team Stan Smith and Bob Lutz, beat Italy 5-0 for the Davis Cup at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium.
▪ 1984: At the Summer Olympics, Kataoka saw the light-heavyweight semifinal boxing match between Evander Holyfield and New Zealand’s Kevin Barry at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Holyfield knocked out Barry with a jab-hook combo but was disqualified for what the referee called a late blow.
▪ 1989: Kataoka and his son Matt went to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Anaheim and Disneyland. On their way home from Los Angeles International Airport, they met Oakland A’s players Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Terry Steinbach, Dave Stewart and Reggie Jackson, who had retired two years earlier.
▪ 2004: Phil Mickelson won the Masters and the coveted green jacket in Augusta, Ga., for the first time. Mickelson also won in 2006 and 2010.
▪ 2013: A lifelong 49ers fan, Kataoka took a train to New Orleans for his second Super Bowl. The 49ers didn’t have the same luck as they did when he saw them win Super Bowl XIX in 1985 at Stanford, losing 34-31 to Baltimore.