When I was a kid, nearly every summer my dad and I would drive from my home in northwestern New Jersey, across the George Washington Bridge and into the Bronx to see to Yankee games. Back when tickets were fairly cheap, there were always plenty of seats and you could actually move down to the lower section late in the game without getting arrested.
One game, during batting practice, my dad leaned way over the rain tarp along the first base line and snagged me a slow rolling ball, a treasure that I still have on my desk today. At another game, a young rookie that I’d never heard of signed my scorecard, something I only realized a couple years later was Don Mattingly, who adorns the walls of my office still.
Recently, my two older boys have had a penchant for snagging collectables and autographs that is light years ahead of any of my childhood exploits. Last year, we went to watch the Yankees play the Orioles at Camden Yards. During batting practice, a player came over and signed a program for my oldest – it was none other than future hall of famer Mariano Rivera. He looked at me with excitement but questioning eyes and I explained to him how rare an experience this was. This April, we went to a Nationals game and each of them were thrown a ball in the outfield during batting practice. I keep telling them that this kind of thing is unusual but they’re starting not to believe me.
This summer, they’ve attended several local Richmond sports camps and they’re brushes with greatness have not subsided. My eight-year-old went to Shaka Smart VCU basketball camp. Even if you don’t live in Richmond, any basketball fans are probably familiar with VCU and their dynamic young coach who has spurned the advances from larger programs to stay with the Rams after several trips to the NCAA tournament. Not only did my son get to see and get autographs from nearly the entire Rams team during camp, including Briante Weber, Juvonte Reddic and former player Joey Rodriguez who led them to the final four three years ago. No, that would be too easy. He also got to play one-on-one with Shaka Smart himself! (and scored a basket) He kept wondering why Dad was standing with his mouth open in surprise.
The parade of autographs and experiences continued as they played football at the University of Richmond camp with the team and coaches. This week, they did a three-day baseball camp with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the AA minor league team for the world champion San Francisco Giants. Oh, and my oldest got a ball at the Squirrels game last week too for good measure. I’m pretty sure these kind of opportunities didn’t exist when I was a kid, or if they did, I surely didn’t see them.
This afternoon, we experienced Richmond’s newest attraction, the first year that the Washington Redskins training camp is in town. The city, newspapers and radio are beside themselves with player sightings and all things Redskins. We weren’t sure what to expect, with rumors of long walks from parking, huge crowds, and there’d been a giant rainstorm earlier in the day, leaving lots of puddles and balmy conditions. But we were within 50 feet of the team going through their drills. They let the kids up in a roped off front row section in the end zone and I tried to keep them adequately supplied with drinks and snacks so they wouldn’t melt down.
At the end of practice, several of the players came over and picked a youngster out of the crowd to come back to the practice field and meet the team. We weren’t picked for that but a couple guys did stand and sign autographs. A few moments later, the kids caught a glimpse of who they’d been waiting to see and the crowd started chanting in unison, RG3, RG3, which, for those non-football fans, was for Robert Griffin III, Washington’s exciting young quarterback. Sure enough, he jogged over to the crowd. My boys were prepared with a sharpie and two copies of an RGIII rookie card. There were a lot of kids and I feared there was a good chance that my boys would either be trampled or not get close enough for a signature before he left. (or worse, that only one of the boys would get an autograph!) Amazingly, he stayed for at least 30 minutes and signed nearly every last person’s card. The boys were psyched, and Dad was yet again amazed.
I wonder if it’s all starting to be a bit too regular for them, but hey, I guess there are worse things that can happen to kids. In the meantime, I’ve commandeered most of these keepsakes and put them under lock and key since I largely don’t trust the boys to take care of them. I don’t know how my mementos made it through all these years, probably because I just had a little sister who didn’t care about them, but I’m not taking any chances. I suspect that MB3 will be too rough with their valuable RG3, so until they’re older, we’ll have to keep it with ME.