John Grindrod: Different autographs divided by 60 years
In March, as I do every year, I flew to Fort Myers to spend a few days with my sister Joanie and my brother-in-law, John. Among our various activities, John and I will visit either the Minnesota Twins camp or the Boston Red Sox camp, both located in the city for some fun spring training.
This time John and I visited Boston, officially called JetBlue Park at Fenway South. It was only the resort’s second day open, before the established pros even arrived. However, the minor leaguers were there in full force, enjoying their spring seats until the big boys came to town.
As they were performing drills and batting practice, I immediately noticed something. While baseball has long been considered the most democratic sport, a sport where players of smaller stature like Hall of Famers Pee Wee Reese (5’9″, 160 pounds) and Wee Willie Keeler (5’4″ , 140 pounds) can make their mark, they weren’t little young men. Almost every one of them was easily 6 feet or more and at least a few hundred pounds well-proportioned.
One we noted was Boston’s most prized minor leaguer. He was selected as the fourth player in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft last year, 19-year-old Marcello Mayer. The potential Sox shortstop of the future certainly looked like the role he settled on. A quick touch on my phone provided me with his dimensions, 6’3″ and just a cheeseburger away at 190 pounds.
After throwing a spray of lines that sounded like gunshots each time the baseball hit the maple bat, he exited the cage and was immediately surrounded by those with balls to autograph. While most were children, one stood out because he was decidedly not a man in his 40s.
As Mayer signed off, I looked away to continue enjoying the experience that has always captivated me, the baseball activity. A few minutes later, while John and I were talking to one of the aforementioned retirees working at the camp, I received a tap on the shoulder.
He was the same man who was sticking out like a weed among the children around Mayer. He must have been afraid that the young prospect wouldn’t sign more than one article because he had a second shot and asked me if I would go and sign it for one of his sick brothers.
I knew immediately by refusing his request that there was no sick brother. He was someone who monetized a prospect’s future, hoping that one day Mayer would be a star and he could sell those balls on eBay. After he left, I started thinking about my own youth and the occasional autographs I collected. Some I still have, each comes with a memento of my purchase, and you won’t see any of them on eBay.
In fact, the autographs that have ties to my dad are the ones that came to mind that day at Jet Blue. One article, unfortunately, did not survive the poor judgment and lack of foresight of a boy far too young to appreciate the article my father brought me from a business trip. The item was an autographed ball my dad got from a client of his who knew the clubhouse attendant at Crosley Field, then home of the Cincinnati Reds.
The ball contained the autographs of all the Reds, 1961 National League champions, including the great Frank Robinson. Although my father told me to keep the ball and not play with it, the immaculate surface of the ball was as great a temptation to me as that shiny red apple was to Eve. I took it outside and played with it so much that the grass stains quickly overwhelmed the once clearly visible blue ballpoint signatures. To this day, this remains one of my deepest regrets.
However, there are two that have Dad connections that I’ve picked up that are posted on the walls of my man cave. While on a trip to St. Louis, Dad dined at a restaurant co-owned by Cardinal Hall of Famer Stan Musial. Musial was there that night. The still brightly colored framed photo shows Musial kneeling in the circle on the deck, and the autograph reads: “To Jack Grindrod, Best wishes, Stan Musial.
The other autograph that has a connection to my father is even more special because the treasured signature I acquired was that of my childhood hero, Mickey Mantle. The connection with dad goes all the way back to his hometown of Lynn, Massachusetts. One of his classmates was 17-year-old future major leaguer Jim Hegan, a longtime Indian wide receiver from Cleveland and the catcher of hundreds of tilts for the great Bob Feller.
In 1961, Hegan was the Yankees bullpen coach, and my dad felt I should write a letter to Hegan asking for his signature and Mantle’s. Sure enough, one wonderful day I received a note from Hegan on official Yankee letterhead. He was as humble as he was concerned about my request, saying in the note wishing Dad warmly that he would sign his name at the bottom of the page so I could keep Mickey at the top of the stationery all by myself. While 60 years has faded the ink a bit, Mantle’s letter and signature are still quite legible and, of course, the memory is indelible.
Yeah, I thought about the autographs that day at JetBlue last March, both the one I got from someone who only saw dollar signs in a possible future star’s signature and also my own, now six decades old, the ones that if I wait this long before, I will cry.
Marcelo Mayer, 19, fourth overall pick in the 2021 Major League Baseball draft and top prospect for the Boston Red Sox, signs autographs March 13 at JetBlue Park in Fenway South during spring training.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, freelance writer and editor, and author of two books. Join it at [email protected]