Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Every Signature Tells a Story: Tom Seaver

One of my favorite possessions is a book, “The New York Mets — The First Quarter Century.”

It’s not particularly well-written, though the photos are nice. It was a Christmas gift from parents in 1986, which makes it special in and of itself.

But the book as been my companion to dozens of ballgames and card shows. Every time I meet anyone connected with the Mets — or might potentially meet anyone connected with the Mets — I ask them to sign the book.

There are easily more than 150 autographs in there by now, from owner Fred Wilpon to former back-up catcher Brent Mayne, Hall-of-Famers to guys up for a cup of coffee.

Don’t worry, I’m not one of those freaky autograph stalkers. I usually get signatures at card shows or spring training, were everyone is relaxed and doesn’t mind signing.

I like to shake hands with people after they sign, maybe ask a question or two. That way, the book is a collection of experiences, not just autographs.

And some of experiences are true adventures. Like the first one: Tom Seaver.

The Franchise was my baseball hero. Actually, it might not be accurate to put that in the past tense. Most of my basement baseball shrine is dedicated to chronicling his career. OK, so I wear No. 41 on my softball jersey. And my first cat’s middle name was Seaver. And the kids’ middle name...well, my wife drew the line somewhere.

But I’d never met the man in person until a baseball card show in Trumbull, Conn., in 1987.

I stood in line with three things I wanted Tom to sign: the book, a baseball and my ticket stub from win No. 300. My wife held our camera in case Tom wouldn’t mind posing for a snapshot.

And as I got closer, I realized was absolutely terrified.

I’d met ballplayers before. But this was Tom. Much of my childhood was spent trying to look like him and be like him. I’m still scarred from June 15, 1977, when he was traded to the Reds.

What if, when we got up to him, he was a jerk? A lifetime of hero worship wasted.

So I was probably shaking when it was my turn to approach the table.

“Hi, Tom,” I said, holding out the ball and laying the book in front of him. “Could you write: 'To Dave?'”

“Hello,” he said in a warm, friendly tone.

“I’ve been a fan since I was.....” and I just couldn’t get the words out, but motioned my hand about waist high.

Seaver smiled. “When was that, last week?”

I handed him the ticket stub.

“That was a good game. I brought my whole family.”

“It was a good game,” Seaver said, and wrote his name and “#300” on the stub.

Then I got really bold.

“Could you pose for a picture?”

“Sure! Come around here.”

Seaver motioned for the assistant to get out of his seat and let me sit next to him. He put his arm on my shoulder and leaned close.

“How’s this?”

“Awesome!” I said as my wife took the photo.

I probably thanked him a million times as I collected my stuff and walked off , very grateful -- and relieved -- that he was so nice.

We dropped the film off on the way home to be developed.

Remember the scene in the “Princess Bride,” when Prince Humperdink cranks up that life-sucking machine and Wesley makes that mournful wail that is heard throughout the kingdom?

“That is the sound of ultimate suffering,” Inigo tells Fezzig.

I’m pretty sure I made that sound when we picked up the photos. The camera malfunctioned.

I’m over it now.

I’ve since met Seaver two other times. Once at another card show in Connecticut, and another a couple years ago at the huge sports collectors’ convention in Chicago.

I didn’t get anything signed the last time — prices are way out of control now — but I had my son with me. The employees allowed me to walk up and shake Tom’s hand and introduce him to Andrew.

I didn’t ask to take a photo. Not going there again.

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