That time Willie Mays yelled at me
One thing that to this day that has stayed with me since my childhood is my love of baseball.
It’s kind of never been a better time to be a baseball fan — technology allows fans to watch games coast-to-coast.
It’s also kind of never been a worse time —because of ~13 pitching changes per game even a 2–1 games lasts three hours— but I sometimes wonder if I’d still be the fan I am today if it weren’t for one summer day in 1995.
Back in the day’s when AOL ruled the internet newspapers used to have advertisements. I specifically remember ads for car dealerships, grocery stores, and some place called Buns ‘n Roses. But my Dad caught an ad for a baseball card show at the Bloomington Ice Garden, and Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays would be signing autographs.
That’s right, the greatest baseball players of all-time would be signing autographs at a municipal hockey rink 25 minutes from my house.
It was a sort of a homecoming for Willie who as a 20-year-old played for the New York Giants’ Triple-A Minneapolis Millers. At 7 1/2 years younger than the average AAA player Willie played 35 games, hit .477, got on base 52% of the time, and had 29 extra base hits. I’m willing to bet he played good center field defense as well.
This was also during the baseball card boom of the 90s. Baby Boomers were hitting their 40’s, and there was a clear delineation between them; those whose mom’s never tossed those baseball cards from the 50s and 60s and those willing to spend a lot of money getting them back. Throw in an era’s worth of ballplayers that didn’t make a lot of money and didn’t save that money because of, er, vices and suddenly they had an avenue to generate an income again. Baseball card shows were big business.
As was customary at the time I just threw on a baseball hat and that day it just so happened I put on a Cubs one. As we entered the Garden, it was a zoo, but I seem to remember the line to move pretty briskly since the notoriously surly Mays would just sign and move on to the next item to sign. He moved that line with German-like precision.
Finally, we got to the table and my Dad — probably like 2,378 other guys that day — said, “Say, Hey Willie!” Mays popped his head up just enough to acknowledge my father and then he became alert.
“Don’t you know I owned the Cubs?!”
My Dad completely freaked out as he remembered his childhood in Iowa watching Cubs games on WGN listening to Jack Brickhouse call another Mays home run knowing this to be true.
Mays even started signing other people’s memorabilia half-chastising me, half-having fun with a kid who didn’t know any better.
That baseball would be my most cherished possession today had my Mom not thrown it away.