Monday, April 27, 2015
The Authentic Signature
I loved the hot corner. The anticipation of every pitch, raising up on the balls of my feet making a move on the ball. The ping of the ball hitting the bat over and over on field next to field like a demented pinball machine. The wind would kick up every now and again and blow the dust right off the field, blowing between the stands and the concession stand where no matter how you played, a shockingly cold Mr. Pibb bought by the coach was waiting for you afterwards. The hiss of that pop top was like the roar of the crowd to some.
There is something magical about a coach calling your name for the on deck circle. Looking over at your parents in the stands and getting a thumbs up as you tried to play it cool. The sound of your teammates cheering you on as you walk up to the plate: your heart pounding in your chest like it wants to get out. Digging in at the plate, establishing your territory, and staring down the pitcher while you waited for his delivery.
I played baseball just like my brothers did. I played third base and was, when I started growing taller asked to eventually pitch. My last year in, I hit my first and only home run all the way to the tennis courts in deep left center and ran so slow around every base knowing it might be my last.
Back then it was just me and the dirty pants boys who slid that day, slogging down grape pop mixed with the grime from the field talking about baseball with mouths chock full of Big League Chew trying to emulate Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace, or Ron Kittle. The firm allegiances to North or South firmly etched in your family but divided in any conversation about who was the better team that year.
Just like every boy my age, collecting baseball cards and memorabilia was an extension of that passion. The thrill of the hunt to complete an entire set or collecting your favorite player's baseball cards. Nothing could keep us from going to our favorite stores, even a six mile bike ride on our dirt bikes to the closest store didn't seem impossible.
Back then, it wasn't about game used this and uniforms embedded in the card. It was about the player and his stats, the look of the card. Sometimes it was about collecting enough packs to get a decent size bubble from the bubble gum which lost its flavor immediately but left that powdery residue on whatever unfortunate soul was at the bottom.
I became a rabid collector with my younger brother and when sports card shows came to the local Holiday Inn where treasure became a reality. The most coveted of all the memorabilia was the autograph. Sometimes our older brothers would take us to the shows where local legends and sometimes big stars lined up on a long table and you waited with baited breath to say something, anything to them while they signed your ball.
At Comiskey Park in the summer of 1981 my parents took me to a game. I went down to the bullpen to see who was warming up. The pitcher I don't remember but when you see Fisk on the back of the jersey this Chicago boy who played baseball got all numb inside.
I fought for position at the rail among the throng of other boys, some of them much bigger than me to get to the front. I was mere feet from a hero, hanging over the rail as much as I dared and I asked him "Mr. Fisk. Mr. Fisk, can you please sign my ball?" He lifted his catcher's mask, turned to me, as if in slow motion and said "F*** off kid."
I was devastated and hurt. Though my parents explained later that he was warming up the catcher pregame and he had his job to do, I didn't expect the harsh treatment. I stopped collecting anything that had his name on it. If I got him in a pack, my friend instantly knew he was up for grabs or just to get back at him his card instantly went in my dirt bike's spokes.
That's when I found Cal Ripken Jr. The Ironman. He started his career in 1981 as a third basemen like me but soon moved over to shortstop where he redefined the position. I watched him whenever I could and wanted to emulate his toughness. Not only that, but I discovered he was a nice guy and that meant even more to me as a young kid who looked up to ballplayers.
Since that day, I have been collecting every Cal Ripken Jr. card since he rookie year. It's the reason I bought a Cal Ripken commemorative baseball like the ones you can get from Steiner Sports for my shelf from his retirement game. There is something of value to being truly authentic. The signature is a symbol for me about who to be no matter what success you have in life and above all else to remain humble among accolades and praise.
The signature is much more than a collectible, it is a part of how I shaped myself as a person. It's a personal connection to a person that I never met but shaped my life through his actions. I forgive you Carlton Fisk because thanks to you, I found Cal Ripken Jr. when I needed him the most.
FTC Disclaimer: I received compensation from Steiner Sports for this post. All opinions expressed are my own.