I used to think it was a good thing to get my kids into baseball. Pass down Cardinals history from generation to generation. Take the young’ins to a few games in Busch. Teach them the finer points of the game.
Now, after attending my first Spring Training game in Roger Dean Stadium…I realize just how much it sucks having children who are also Cardinals fans.
For more than 20 years (which is a long time to a 34-year old), I’ve dreamed of going to a Spring Training game. Yesterday, I got my chance. Due to unexpected circumstances, we found ourselves spending a week in Florida. My wonderful wife decided we would make the two hour trek to Jupiter and see the Cardinals in their home confines of Roger Dean Stadium.
And so – on a hot, 85 degree day in Florida – we found ourselves sitting in the bleachers in left field…watching the 2011 World Champions trounce the Washington Nationals 9 to nothin’. I hardly saw it, such was my euphoria – and secret bitterness – at what had occurred prior to the game.
As a rule, I take my kids – a 12 year old son and a 2 year old daughter – down to the autograph scrum by the Cardinals’ dugout before every game. Sometimes players sign…most times they don’t. But this day, we were at Spring Training…and for those of us never lucky enough to attend a Spring Training game before, these games were legendary for unique autograph opportunities.
So in the hot sun we waited. An hour before the game. Nothing. We waited longer. Forty-five minutes before the game. Still nothing.
“Dad,” my son said, as he clutched two baseballs – one for him and one for his sister – and a Sharpie in his sweating hands, “should we be done?”
“No,” I said, “Let’s wait a bit longer and see what happens.” But I was starting to get discouraged as well. Where were all the players? Where were the Hall of Famers? Where were the former players? Was no one going to bless our baseballs with a barely intelligible rendition of their first and last name?
And then Al Hrabosky showed up. After finishing his Fox Sports Midwest pre-game show taping right in front of us, the lefty sauntered over and worked the wall. I quickly instructed my son to be ready. When it was over, he had scored a signature for both himself and his sister.
“Whew,” I said to myself. “At least they got one.”
Thirty minutes before the game. No action. Players beginning to warm up. Yadi running through pre-game drills at the bullpen plate in front of us. And a solitary figure on the right field wall signing autographs.
“Is that who I think it is?” I asked a guy next to me. “Is that Gibson? He’s too far for me to tell.” The man shrugged as if to say he didn’t know…and he was too far from us to matter, really. There was no way he would still be signing by the time he got to us.
I made my son aware of the ‘ol pitcher’s presence, and settled in to wait for easier game.
Then…all of a sudden…Whitey Herzog was standing before us. The crowd welcomed him with respectful applause, and the White Rat stopped to sign a few autographs – right in front of my son!
I waited anxiously…he signed one, two…he signed a third…my son was next!
And then he finished and walked off…never signing my son’s baseball. Ah well, I thought. Them’s the breaks for autograph seekers. I checked Gibson’s progress. He was still too far away, but he was still signing. We waited anxiously. He kept signing. And signing.
Before long, he was within 10 feet of us!
And then…from the crowd I heard, “Loouuuu!” Lou Brock passed Gibson, patted him on the shoulder, laughed a bit…and stopped right in front of my son.
He signed one, two…my son was next…again. Oh, no, I thought to myself. It’s going to happen again. And then he was chatting and laughing with my son…and signing his ball! When he was done, I looked down to my boy…and he held up one finger.
Oh, no, I thought…he only got it on his ball. Lou had signed his and walked off, done for the day. Now we were in trouble. The boy had one but couldn’t get the girl one. Years from now, I could see myself explaining to my baby girl how we had stood in front of Lou Brock and gotten Bubba a signature…but not sister. Ugh.
I checked on Gibson. Five feet away…and still signing!
I called to my son and got his attention. “You’ve got a Hall of Famer,” I said. “This time…if he signs…start with your sister’s.” He nodded excitedly and smiled…even flashed a thumbs up. Good boy.
And then Gibson was before him…signing my daughter’s ball…and laughing. “I may like your sister,” he said playfully, “but I only sign one per person.” And then he moved on.
My boy had Lou Brock’s autograph, and he had gotten his sister Bob Gibson’s. Wow.
We watched the rest of the game…it was tremendous, as most of the regulars played. Garcia was outstanding. Greene homered. Motte shut ’em down. Good day.
I left the stadium thrilled that my children had the autographs of Cardinals Hall of Famers. But I also left…surprisingly…jealous.
Bob Gibson and Lou Brock had signed two baseballs of mine…but I owned neither of them. Heck…we had even managed to get Rick Ankiel – now with the Nationals – to sign a ticket each for the kids! And none of it would be mine.
I know, I know…this all sounds petty…but I think that was the day I learned what it means to grow into an adult baseball fan. Autographs are great. I absolutely love ’em. But when it comes right down to it…it’s a kid’s game. It’s my job as their dad to help them get into position, make sure they have a ball and a pen, and help them score that hard-to-get autograph. And I love doing that…
But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit jealous.
Guess I’ll just have to pull the “we’ll keep ’em in the family display case until I die…then you can have what belongs to each of you…hey…it’s just so I can make sure they’re cared for.”