One of the great things about spring training is that I had the opportunity to meet a bunch of fellow Dodger fans. Amongst the hardcore autograph collectors (of which there seemed to be tons), I met an older gentleman who was there with his wife from Lakewood. They were there for 2 days and stay with their sister in Pheonix. Both of them are retired so that can spend the weekdays at Camelback Ranch. Mama Cora met a young couple from Fresno, who make that long drive to Los Angeles FORTY times a year to watch their beloved Dodgers. They also had great matching bright blue shoes. My family met this older lady from Manhattan Beach who has been to 25 straight years of spring training at Vero Beach and Arizona. She had this cute little autograph book that she carries around. Then there was a father who promised to take his 13 year old son to Arizona from New York if he did well in school. After gettting all A's, they were visiting all of the Arizona spring training parks in 10 days. But, I thought the best story was from and young man who brought along his bat.
Imagine you are eight years old and are at the New York Yankees spring training facility in Florida. Sometime during that trip, you are able to meet Don "Mr Baseball" Mattingly. And through some divine intervention you were able to get a sleek, heavy bat that Donnie baseball used during a game. You cherish that bat and it sits in your bedroom for you to admire and cherish. But then life happens. You grow up, acquire more things, even get married and have a child. Although you still love that bat and would never think to throw it out, it starts taking up room in the house, room for wedding presents, a baby stroller, or even your tax returns.
Let's call that boy Chris. Chris has moved to Los Angeles and that same player many years ago who gave him that cherished bat, the one that collects dust in the corner of a closet, is now the manager of your hometown Dodgers. What would make that bat even more special? How about if Don Mattingly autographed it. Although Mattingly now lives in the same city, it's not going to be that easy. You can't just walk into Dodger Stadium with a bat, can you? And even if you could, how are you going to get down to the dugout to ask for the autograph? How about spring training? Well, you also have to get the permission from the wife to go. Oh, and don't forget leaving your child just so that you can fulfill your childhood dream. And there's always that thing called a job. But somehow, all the stars align. There is one weekend that seems to fit the family and work schedule. The family gives you the ok (with the promise of some serious jewlery when you return for a certain loved one). So you pack up the car, load up the bat, and head out to Arizona.
Now the "hard part". How are you going to get Mattingly's attention amongst the various other people? How about a sign, and a cute one at that. One that says....
That's where I met Chris. He was standing in an area devoid of a lot of other fans holding this sign. Everyone was asking him what it said and after reading it, everyone was now behind and encouraging him. When practice finished, the players and their manager were walking away, and unfortunately, also away from Chris. He picked up his sign and bat and dashed over to where Mattingly seemed to be stopping to sign some autographs. Mattingly actually finished signing autographs and was hurrying to manage his one o'clock game. As a last ditch effort, Chris yelled out "Mr. Mattingly, I have your bat from 25 years ago!" And that seemed to do it, as he turned around and asked to see it, because really, who in their right mind has saved a bat for 25 years? It must be a joke, right? I'm sure Mattingly was just as surprised when in front of him was a piece of lumber that help get him so many of those hits. Mattingly actually remembered using that type of bat all those years ago on the playing field. Then he signed his autograph slowly and carefully in a nice silver script, gave the bat back to Chris, and walked away.
I saw Chris afterward and he was literally shaking. He allowed us to take some pictures of his sign and his bat. I just really loved this story. One piece of memorabilia that connected these two people over all of these years. Chris was able to stow the bat back in this car and watch the game at Camelback Ranch. I hope you and the bat made it home safely, Chris. And I'm sure that you can find some room next to the stroller, right?