Joe Garagiola was a mediocre baseball player but an All-Star guy. How do I know? Well, aside from reading his wonderful book “Baseball is a Funny Game” and enjoying his self-effacing humor on TV, I had one of those “lightening strikes” nights at Yankee Stadium in August of 1966.
It was what they used to call a “twi-nighter,” a nighttime double-header. The air was stagnant and sticky and somehow my friend Joey and I scored reserved mezzanine seats behind the plate in the pre-renovation Yankee Stadium. The Kansas City A’s were the opponents.
As usual, I arrived at the game very early to watch batting practice when I noticed a couple of familiar faces enjoying a cold drink and some jokes a few rows ahead and to the left of me. Once I realized who they were I grabbed my scorecard and tentatively walked up to them, fearing I’d be told to get lost and not interrupt their conversation. At they time they were the Yankees announcing team and maybe they were strategizing how they’d call the games…or maybe just two pals BSing before they got to work. At any rate my fears were quickly allayed.
The first guy whipped out a substantial pen, said “sure kid,” and scrawled his Hall of Fame name, Phil Rizzuto, “The Scooter,” the Yankees legendary shortstop. The other guy seemed kind of shy and almost surprised a kid would want him to sign too. But he grabbed my pencil, smiled and complied, adding his sprawling signature, to the page. “Enjoy the game…and thanks,” he said.
After the game, as I walked along the warning track on the way to the subway, I quickly bent down and grabbed a blade of right field grass and later Scotch taped it onto the same page as those signatures. That program remains my most important possession, not only because of the autographs and grass, but the warm memory of a couple of legends willing to share a moment and a little bit of themselves with a shy, pimply, 14-year old baseball fan. RIP Joe….and “Thanks.”