Friday June 14th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL
I had some business cards made up a couple of years ago saying that I buy old sports cards and other collectibles. They’re blaze orange, and I used to put them on bulletin boards anywhere and everywhere I had the chance. I hadn’t done it in a very long while, but of late I started up again.
I get calls from time to time, but so far I haven’t hit the mother lode. Everyone thinks they have a million dollar collection when mostly it’s worthless junk from the last twenty years which will never have any value because it was way overprinted. They’re disappointed when they hear they didn’t hit the lottery, but too bad. I’ve had to live with disappointment since birth. They can too.
Today I got a call from a guy who had cards from the ‘70s he found in his basement. That’s my era, and even if they’re not worth very much I still think they’re cool. They bring back memories of childhood I want to revisit – and there aren’t many of those. I asked him to name some players from the cards he had and one of them was Sparky Lyle - ace pitcher for the New York Yankees.
Sparky Lyle will forever hold a position of the highest esteem in my heart. He’s in my personal Hall of Fame, and all it took was a minute of his time. He signed a baseball for me during a game at Milwaukee County Stadium when I was a kid, and I never forgot it. I’ve been a fan all my life.
It was one of the first Major League baseball games I’d ever seen live, and I went with some of the kids from my neighborhood. Their parents took a carload of us to the game, and it was a blast getting to see our beloved home town Brewers take on the hated Yankees. It was ball day, and all of us had a fresh white baseball as a souvenir. Naturally, we had to try to get some autographs.
We couldn’t get to the Brewers’ bullpen, but the Yankees were within reach. There was a giant chain link fence in the way, but we could see them standing only a few feet away. There weren’t many of us there since the game was in progress, but one of the players told us he couldn’t sign.
I must have looked pretty pathetic, because Sparky Lyle came over and said “Hey kid, toss that ball over the fence and I’ll sign it for you.” It took me three tries, but I finally got it over and sure enough he signed it for me. He asked my name, and wrote “Best of Luck, Sparky Lyle” under it.
It took a couple of tries to get it back over the fence, but he did and I caught it with the care I’d use if a live baby were being thrown off a burning building. That baseball was instantly the most valuable possession I owned, and I thanked him like he’d donated his left kidney to save my life.
I kept that ball on my dresser for years, but exposure to the sun had caused the ink to fade until the signature was barely visible after a while. I remembered that moment vividly in my head and still do, but it faded from the ball and I eventually got rid of it because I couldn’t stand seeing it.
Signing autographs for the thousands of kids who ask for them must get to be a pain in the ass of epic proportions for ball players, but Sparky Lyle knew how much it means and did it anyway. It only took two minutes or less, but he gave me a memory I still cherish almost 40 years later.
I looked him up, and he’s 68 now and a former manager of a minor league team in New Jersey. He was born on July 22nd – the same birthday as another hero George Clinton. Maybe the whole numerology thing has some truth to it after all. Whatever the case, it was a lesson to see what one small gesture can do. I hope I’m able to make someone feel that good with something that I do.
|One kind gesture lasted 40 years. I still remember!|