I met my childhood hero on Easter Sunday. That’s a thing that happened to me. Sitting in the stands with my wife on a lazy afternoon at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona for a Cubs spring training game, the stadium announcer informed the sold out crowd that former Cubs great, Lee Smith, would be signing autographs in the memorabilia store behind left-center. Don’t worry, Lee Smith is definitely not my childhood hero. But I was admittedly interested as the announcement went on. “Also appearing today – Fergie Jenkins.” Okay, cool. A Hall of Famer. Still not my childhood hero, but I’d never met a Hall of Famer before. Actually, the closest I’d ever come to meeting a Hall of Fame baseball player is probably the time my old roommate, Mike Holmes, talked to Dave Winfield at a gas station in Westwood. So I was pretty sure I was gonna check this out. But then it came. “And also appearing today – Andre Dawson.”
Show me where this is happening right fucking now.
So my initial plan was to find out exactly when Dawson would be appearing and come back for it later, but when I approached the memorabilia store, he was already sitting RIGHT THERE signing autographs and taking photos with fans. I was not mentally prepared for that. And I embarrassingly had to calm myself down, like my brain had been hijacked by the seven-year-old version of me. So after I gasped loudly and started giggling like a psychopathic idiot, I told my wife, “That’s him! He’s sitting right there!” And then I proceeded to stand in line and practice what I wanted to say to him in my head for a half an hour like I was Ralphie from A Christmas Story, except 36-years-old and without the excuse of youth. Seriously though, a guy directly behind me in line actually started physically beating his son for crying too much and all I was doing was thinking, “Anyway, do I tell the Hawk how I think he would have been even greater if his bad knees hadn’t had to endure all those years of Astroturf?”
It wasn’t until later that night in the hotel room that I remembered the whole child-beating thing and said to my wife, “Man, that guy behind us in line was really rough with his son, huh?” Because at the time, I couldn’t be bothered. Not even when my wife was asking me questions about who Andre Dawson was. Or who Fergie Jenkins was. Or why nobody was standing in line for whoever the unannounced third guy was. My brain was in full Dawson overdrive. “Do I tell him about the letter I wrote him when I was eight that included his Score baseball card and a self-addressed stamped envelope that he signed and sent back to me? Do I tell him I actually still base my signature on how his autograph looked when I got it back? Do I tell him I currently have a framed poster of him in my office – the one where he’s standing on Clark and Addison and a hawk is perched on his bat? Do I tell him it’s on the wall next to a plaque of the ’89 team? Do I tell him I had his Sports Illustrated poster in my childhood bedroom, brought it with me to college and then to my first apartment in Wrigleyville after I graduated, and still regret forgetting to bring it with me when I moved, and how I couldn’t go back and get it after the fact because they demolished the apartment to build a million dollar condo? What do I say to him???”
When it was actually my turn to meet Mr. Dawson and have my photo taken, what I did say was nothing. NOTHING! I just couldn’t do it. I went blank. I pulled a full Ralphie. I just shook his hand and smiled dopily while my wife snapped the photo and thanked him for me. And then I walked off in a giggling daze, past Hall of Fame pitcher, Fergie Jenkins, and the other guy like I couldn’t have given less of a shit about. “What’d you ever do, Jenkins – win 284 games and a Cy Young Award? Beat it, old man. You’re not the Hawk.” And I didn’t stop giggling until I got back to my seat. I remember saying, “That was so cool,” a hundred times while my wife laughed at me. You’ve got to realize, this was a game where Robinson Cano hit three home runs and Jason Heyward was attacked by a swarm of bees in center field, and this is the story I’m telling you. It’s that important to me. I know he was a 9th ballot Hall of Famer. He was never the best. He wasn’t Barry Bonds or Rickey Henderson or even Ryne Sandberg. But he was my favorite. Just like the Cubs were never the best, but they’re also my favorite. And that’s what’s important to me.
I met Andre Dawson, everybody. Or whatever you call it when you just sit next to someone awkwardly and grin like an ogre while your wife has to do the speaking for you. I did that one. And it was really cool.