Autograph #3 – Stanley Jefferson

May 21, 2008

I started to really get into baseball in high school due to my good friend Jim Freund. For some reason, the City of Cape Girardeau needed a lifeguard at the wading pool in Arena Park. It couldn’t have been more than two feet deep, but Jim was assigned there and would bring a lawn chair and sit by the pool during the summer. I started to ride my bike over to see him and hang out. That’s when I got introduced to Strat-o-matic baseball.

As an aside, I think that Strat-o-matic also introduced to me the importance of on base percentage and slugging percentage. Guys that had a decent batting average, but no walks, would generally have worse cards than those who walked all the time. Plus, more extra base hits meant better hits on their good columns. As I started to track players in anticipation of next year’s strat cards, I would keep an eye on their batting average, extra base hits and walks. Later, it just became obvious to use OBA and SLG to evaluate the quality of players.

We would play strat as he kept a casual eye on occasional toddler that would brave the deep side of the wading pool and we fought epic battles between the titans of the 80s – Sid Fernandez, Charlie Hough, Willie Randolph, Eric Davis, Ryne Sandberg, Jody Davis and the rest.

So, as I started to follow players, I followed the hot prospects and those next future stars you could draft on your team. That’s when I found Stanley Jefferson. He was a can’t miss guy from what I remember. Speed, power, average, defense, a real five-tool player. Somehow, I wanted to prove my knowledge and my faith in Stanley Jefferson, so I named my car after him. My maroon Oldsmobile Delta 88 diesel, one of the infamous bad cars of the 80s. Huge clouds of black smoke would come from the exhaust. Virtually no pickup. However, it was roomy for bunches of friends to fit inside and could survive virtually unscathed as I bumped into poles, curbs and other cars, as I would forget to pay attention to where I was. How I connected it to Stanley Jefferson, I don’t know. But the name stuck.

On the other hand, naming my parents silver Buick Electra after Mitch Williams made a lot more sense. I mean the license plate was LHP 358 and Mitch Williams was a left-handed reliever with a 3.58 ERA the year before. I think the Buick was a lot more reliable on the last few miles to home though.

So, Stanley Jefferson carried me around for the rest of high school and on into college. All of my college friends as well as the high school ones knew his name. Alas, Stan broke down by the side of the road along highway 40 near Kirkwood, MO on a trip back home. It was a sad day when I had to say good-bye to Stan, my faithful companion for many years. The car had lasted longer than his namesake’s career in the majors.

A couple years later, my good friend Kris Hooper was working for the Nashville Sounds where Stanley still toiled, in what I assume was a hope to still make it in the majors. Kris knew about my former car’s name and asked for an autograph on my behalf and told Stanley about my story. I can’t imagine even in the strange light of hero worship where professional athletes exist that he had heard that one before. Stanley gave him a quizzical look, but signed the ball.

I doubt I could have ever asked him for an autograph, but I treasure the fact that I have it as it reminds me of the innocence of youth and the idea of limitless potential. I could get many more autographs, but I doubt any would be as personal as that one.

Last year, I came across a story where Stanley Jefferson was linked to the events of 9/11 at the World Trade Center. It was just another story, one of millions, about how that tragedy touched so many of us. I’m sure a lot of people read it – and felt the sorrow that Stanley felt. I know that the events of that day will always be in my memory – as I sat in my cubicle and tried to work, unable to grasp what had happened. Stanley gave me insight into a bigger personal tragedy and how impossible it can be to put it behind you. Waking up everyday. Not wanting to get out of bed. Dragging yourself through the daily grind. Not knowing how to leave the house. Not thinking there is anything worthwhile out there. Wondering if you’ll ever feel safe. Trying to find anything to make you laugh for just a little bit. Repeating it everyday.

I still think of Stanley. I hope things have gotten better for him. Yes, there are bigger heroes in the realm of baseball and the greater realm of life, but to me, he’ll always be a favorite.


Missouri Tiger Basketball Program

May 12, 2008

Ah, Missouri basketball’s golden years. Well, maybe not the year 1990, as the Tigers lost to Northern Iowa in the first round of the tournament, but at least they were making the tournament. (This was also the first time, and not the last, where I chose the Tigers to win it all in my tourney bracket. I now have learned to try not to pick with my heart, but even in 2008, it led me to pick against the Jayhawks in the round of 16.)

I would occasionally buy a program at a sporting event. I’m not sure why – it makes sense when it is the first visit to a stadium or a big event, but this was a game against Iowa State. In February. In the middle of Big Eight conference action. I’m not seeing anything that screams, “special”. (Maybe I just liked how Doug Smith, Nathan Buntin, Lee Coward and Anthony Peeler sported sweaters.) Anyway, I decided to keep score. Which was fortuitous as during the game, it was announced that Bob Costas was in attendance.

I remember the excitement that flooded through me. Costas, who along with Letterman and Carson formed a triumvirate of late night excellence. To a night owl they were the father, the son and the sporting spirit, each bringing a different set of grilling tools to the entertainment patio. As a journalism student though, as much as I loved the laughter of Carson and the snarkiness of Letterman (whose snark could only be topped by master Bill Murray), Costas was the one who held me in thrall. He loved sports. He broadcasted sports. He could also hold conversations on a seemingly endless range of topics with various entertainers. Which gives an idea of “seemingly endless” to a college freshman.

I could hardly wait for the game to end. As soon as the last horn blew, I hustled over to where Costas still sat in the lower level seats with my program in hand. I handed it to him proudly, open to where I had kept score, thinking, this will show him that I am a true fan. I asked for his autograph. He signed.

From that moment on, I realized how useless an autograph is. Here was the man who epitomized intelligence, success and the ultimate career – and here was his mark. It’s not that he wasn’t gracious or kind – it’s just that would be all he could ever give. (I love Joe Posnanski’s Costas story. That’s all I need to know he is a great dude.)

Maybe I’m dreaming and there are only four or five Costas fans in the whole world. Right above the number of Jared Leto fans and right below Frances McDormand. Still, even so, how much time would Costas be able to give them, or should give them, with his family, friends and himself that should come first.

Some might say that it is his job as being a public figure to devote that time to those that admire him. (I know Some and he is generally an ok guy, but he is way off here. However, if you’re ever in Tulsa, Oklahoma, look Some up and he’ll take you to a great barbecue place.) It’s still just a mark. It could be an “X” or say “Buck up camper” or list the key to great chili (“It’s the beans!”), but it’s still just something to look at on the printed page without any reference except a picture of the man behind it.

So, at that moment, I realized that watching and admiring people’s work is the reward in and of itself. Do I need a picture of Tom Wilkinson hugging me to prove I love “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?” Do I need a piece of Luis Gonzalez’s gum to show I love baseball? Do I need to cut off a lock of a girl’s hair while she sleeps beside me to prove my eternal devotion? Well, maybe the last one, but you get the picture.

It’s not to say that I don’t like getting autographs. As a baseball card fan, when I pull an autographed card from a pack, a thrill shoots up my spine. (The best autographs that I have from baseball cards: Pat Burrell, Adrian Beltre and Mike Schmidt. That last one still excites me.) That comes from the surprise of opening a pack and finding a treasure. To ask for an autograph, it’s taking away the treasure of time.