I am sure all of us have had interactions with players in one form or other. Most of them have occurred during the process of getting an autograph at a book signing, before a game or some other place that may or may not be out of the ordinary. The following are three players who that if Facebook were around back in the day, I might have become friends with these guys.
Don Mattingly-What a way to begin this list. Donnie Baseball is my favorite player of all time. The only occasion where I have ever had chills at a sporting event was before Game 1 of the 1995 American League Division Series. As I heard his name announced during the introduction of the starting lineups, I felt goosebumps up and down my body. The real Yankee Stadium was electric and I remember feeling so good for Mattingly as he sprinted out to the field, running away from all the memories of all those previous horrible Yankee seasons.
Anyway, the first non-autograph encounter with my baseball hero occurred before a game at the Stadium in 1984. About 35 minutes before the game, the players were warming up and Donnie was in my and my sister’s line of sight as he was playing a game of catch. There was a decent amount of fans hanging around when all of a sudden my sister screamed out, “M-A-A-A-T-T-I-N-G-L-Y-Y-Y-Y!!”. He turned toward us and as my sister and I were waving frantically at him, he shielded his eyes and waved back. She was so loud, Bob Sheppard probably heard her.
My other contact with Mattingly took place roughly three years later as we were driving over the George Washington Bridge. While cruising on the upper deck of the bridge heading back to New York, my Dad glanced in his rear view mirror and said, “I think Don Mattingly is in the left lane”. I turned and saw that it indeed was him so I told my father to beep his horn. He obliged and when I waved at Donnie, he acknowledged me with a salute and kept on driving. Two waves, two moments I will never f0rget.
Ron Kittle–He was the 1983 American League Rookie of the Year with the White Sox. In the middle of the 1986 season, was traded by the Chisox to the Yankees and it was the following February at Spring Training where I “met” Kittle for the first time. After a workout, fans always used to wait for players in the parking lot in the hopes of getting an autograph or to say a quick hello. Kittle soon emerged and and a bunch of us went to greet him. He was signing for everyone when he came to me as I handed him his Fleer or Topps 1984 card. He looked at it and said, “I am sorry but I don’t do business with them, I can’t sign it”. Confused, I asked him to sign something else which he happily obliged. I didn’t understand then and I still don’t now as his picture was used on both cards, why couldn’t he sign one of them?
My second story about Kittle doesn’t involve meeting him. Instead, on June 29, 1987, my fourteenth birthday, Ron Kittle hit the only inside-the-park home run of his career during the first inning. The Yankees would go on to beat the Blue Jays 15-14 in a wild affair that was decided thanks to a Dave Winfield grand slam in the top of the eighth inning. Perhaps this was a makeup by Kittle to me for not signing my baseball card.
Dell Alston–He had a short career from 1977-1980 but did come up through the Yankee organization. I think it was in 1982 when my other sister was still in high school when Alston made an appearance at her school one night for a charity basketball game. I don’t remember much about him other than getting his autograph and saying hello. I found out later on that he did attend Concordia College and played ball there. Concordia was the school my wife graduated from some 25 years after Alston was there. While it wasn’t direct contact like Kittle and Mattingly, the family connections are enough to make him a “friend”.
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