Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Jim Leyland Story

One of the fun things about attending a sporting event is the chance you have at gaining a life long memory. If you attend enough events throughout your life you end up with a collage of memories that you can look back on with great enjoyment. The funny thing is, each one is unique in its own way but many of them are no more special than the next.

For instance, I remember seeing Goose Gossage close out a game at Yankee Stadium late in his career and how the place went crazy in a meaningless game. Or the time I saw Rod Carew hit a rare home run in the 12th inning of a game in Anaheim. Fun to see and think back on but nothing anyone is going to go crazy over.

However, we also have those memories that deserves a spot that is front and center of that collage of ours. These are memories that make the other events pale by comparison and JimLeyand gave me one them back when I was 11 years old.

You see I'm a huge Detroit Tigers fan and back in the very early 1980's I lived in Wichita, Kansas. I didn't get to many (any) Tigers games back then but my Dad would always take me to the Triple A games when the Tiger's Evansville farm team came to town. My Dad always worked long days so it was special that he would take off early for those on those summer evenings when Evansville was in town We would always be the first in line when the ticket window opened, off course attendance was pretty slim at those games but he wanted to make sure we got the tickets right next to the Evansville dugout.

Before each game I would stand there in my Tigers cap during batting practice and ask every player who walked by for an autograph. I remember seeing guys like Marty Castillo (HR in '84 World Series), Mark DeJohn (long time minor league got a cup of coffee with the Tigers), Rick Leach, and Mike Chris. These were players many people wouldn't remember but they were my heroes those summers. The players appreciated my loyalty after seeing me there night after night and I got my share of batting practice balls and broken bats.

On one of those balls I decided to get every player I could to autograph it. I good progress getting all the position players to sign it and then I caught Jim Leyland as he walked by. However, before he signed it he started chatting with me; asking me if I played baseball, answering my questions about the players, and telling me about some kids he knew who played baseball. Just general chit chat but I was thrilled (I still have no idea how long it lasted but in my memory it was about 10 minutes).

When he was done chatting he took the ball signed it and commented on how it looked like the whole team had signed it. I told him I was close but I was missing a lot of the pitchers because they always hung out in the bullpen. At that point he grinned and said, 'Hop over the wall and come with me.' Right then I knew he was taking me to the bullpen. So I hopped the wall and security came running but Jim waved him off and said I was with him. He walked me to the bullpen and told one of the pitchers, 'This is my friend Erik, make sure he gets everyone's autograph.' Then he told me to enjoy the game and that he had to go. (I wish I remember who the pitcher was because he was one of the nicest players on the team).

So there it is, probably the best memory I'll ever have related to sports. I'm sure Jim did something like that many times over his long career, I just wonder if he realizes how much joy he really gave a kid and the memories it still provides even 30 years later.

If you have any similar experience please leave a comment. I'd love to hear about them.

No comments:

Post a Comment