“Hey, you! Can I have your autograph?”
A cluster of children had gathered down by the visiting team’s bullpen. Everyone who came through the turnstiles at Colburn Park that day was given a souveneir baseball with our home team’s logo printed on the side. And as soon as I was handed mine, I rushed to join them.
We tossed our balls back and forth over the fence to the handful of players who had gathered there. Guys whose names we didn’t even know. It didn’t mater. Our dads had all told us stories about that one season in the 70s Robin Yount played for the Co-Pilots before he was called up to Milwaukee. We all knew that if any of our hometown Newark Orioles ever made it to the big leagues their autographs could be worth a fortune!
One by one they signed my ball. Maybe ten or twelve guys total. All in ball point pen. Except this one guy. He signed my ball big and clear, right on the sweet spot, in permanent marker. Even though he was wearing the visiting team’s uniform, I could tell he wasn’t on the team because he was a bit overweight and his hair was grey. I was so annoyed that he signed my ball so big.
When I went home that night I put my autographed ball in a case my father bought me at the souvenir shop. He said we shouldn’t play with it and it would be better to put my autographs on display in my room. I wasn’t exactly sure why I shouldn’t play with it, but on my shelf it went where it stayed for the duration of my childhood.
I still have that ball. It remains one of my most treasured possessions to this day, some twenty-five years later. You can still see the team logo printed on the side. It’s a reminder of the few short years our sleepy village had a single-A ball club, before baseball packed up and left town forever. It also serves as a memento from my fondest childhood memories; going to the ballpark with my dad.
I put that ball in a new case a few years back. The autographs have faded away, like most of my memories of those summer evenings I spent at Colburn Park watching baseball with my dad. But there is one signature that never faded over time. The one that old guy signed in black Sharpie right on the sweet spot.
The one that reads “Bob Feller.”