Monday, February 23, 2015

Ever Meet You're Favorite Player And He Turns Out To Be A Jerk?

When your a kid,if you're lucky enough you start enjoying a sport and quickly latch on to a team that you will love the rest of my life. I was. I fell in love with the New York Yankees at the age of 5 and have had a love affair with the Bronx Bombers for almost 39 years. That makes me loyal and old!

When your a kid, if you're lucky enough to find a player who captures your imagination in a way no other player can and he becomes your idol. The guy whom you shower all your admiration for. Buy his jersey. Pick up his bobblehead, Have posters of him on your wall. Trade cards with others to have a collection of cards of your favorite player. And if your really lucky, you will get to meet him and it will be a memorable experience, one that will positively be with you the rest of your life.

I got to meet my favorite player. There's a reason why I don't really have a PC of his.

When I first started watching the Yankees, I didn't have a favorite player right away. My mom, was a massive Reggie Jackson fan, so like a good little mama's boy, I started following him. But there was something about him that didn't appeal to me. Maybe it was I noticed his fielding wasn't that great or that he struck out a lot, but I wasn't down with Reggie as much as my mom was. Don't get me wrong. I didn't dislike Reggie, I was thrilled he was a Yankees, but he wasn't my guy.

During that 1977 season, I started to notice one particular player who was hitting home runs and driving in runs at a more rapid pace than Reggie was. Then, one afternoon, I can't remember who the Yankees were playing or when during that year it took place, but a screaming line drive was rocketed down the third base line, sure to be extra bases. Then, out of nowhere, a diving Yankee snared that ball, got up and threw the ball to Chris Chambliss at first base, nailing the runner by a couple of steps. I remember staring at the replay, mouth wide open, wondering what in the Brooks Robinson just happened. It was the greatest play my widdle eyes had seen at that point and I knew I had found my favorite Yankee. His name, as if you haven't guess by now, was Graig Nettles.

From that point on, I was a Nettles fanatic. I watched the Yankees and hoped to see a fantastic play by the man they called "Puff". I prayed I'd see Nettles hit one out of the park. I had a couple of t-shirts made up as I grew up with the Yankees interlocking NY on the front and Nettles name and number 9 on the back. When I played ball, I was always at 3rd, wore number 9 and was diving for every ball, even if it was a routine grounder. Pretty soon, all the kids called me Nettles and it made me proud. When I started collecting baseball cards in 1979, I always made sure I had his card in my collection and traded with other kids to get his other cards I didn't have. Heck, I was player collecting before it became the thing to do.

I started going to Yankee games with my buddies who lived across the street from me around 1982. We used to go to all the giveaway games, which is why I had a ton of Yankee goodies (God, I wish I still had all that stuff). We made sure to get to the Stadium early to watch batting practice in the bleachers (I was a Bleacher Creature before....ah, who cares.) and we would go and try to get autographs when the players would leave Yankee Stadium. I remember getting some good players to sign my program or baseball cards. Players like Lou Pinella, Bobby Murcer, even a young Don Mattingly. But never Graig Nettles.

Then one day, for some reason I was walking between the buses that would take the Yankee players and staff to the airport to catch their flights when out of the corner of my eye I saw him, Graig Nettles was coming at me. It was just me and my favorite player, mano y mano. I was sure he would want to hear how I idolized him and would be glad to sign my baseball card. Boy, how wrong I was. He brushed me off without even looking at me and avoided the crowd and got in the bus. My heart was broken, yet I rationalized that he had to get on the bus and make his flight, so all was forgiven. I would get him again.

The next chance I got was at a card show, 25 years later. I attended the Long Island card show, which is held at Hofstra University. There a few other players I wanted to meet, but to me, the main event was a meeting with Graig Nettles. Now, mind you, I was just getting restarted collecting autographs and didn't even think of having him sign a photograph or baseball. I plucked down my $30.00 to have him sign my baseball card.

When I finally got up to his table, I was more nervous then when I met Gene Simmons. I started telling him how I idolized him growing up. How I used to play third base and wore number 9 and dove for baseballs and how it was an honor to finally meet him. Nettles looked up at me and said, in the most obnoxious way, "Gee, that's great kid. You must have been really popular". I wasn't sure if he was being a jerk, so I didn't say anything but thanked him for making a die hard fan's day and left the table.

After walking around and looking at a few tables, I looked at my buddy and asked him if Nettles sounded sarcastic to him. My friend confirmed this and told me the look on my face reminded him of a child who was told the last showing of Star Wars was sold out. With my fears being confirmed I decided I wouldn't actively collect Graig Nettles like I was planning. In fact, I was planning on picking up his 1969 Topps rookie card that day.

I met Nettles a couple times after to get a ball signed or an 8x10 signed for a friend and each time I barely said anything to him and he never acknowledged my presence. He would just sign the item without a word to me. If I was lucky, I might get a hello from him after I exchanged the pleasantry to him. The "meeting" would take about 2 minutes, tops. Each time, I would get less disappointed and more angry because I would always look for something that would redeem himself to me. A nice remark or a warm smile that would get me to like him again so I can start that PC of his.

It's not like I don't already have a small PC of him already:

Here's the signed card from that first meeting. I wanted to rip up the card soon after, but remembered I paid $30.00 to have him sign it.

Some Nettles Game Used Cards

Some Nettles autographs

Obviously, my personal feelings about Nettles hasn't stopped me from getting stuff signed by him or adding his Yankee cards to my Yankees collection. I just never started a separate binder for him like I have for Tino Martinez, Mark Teixeira, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter or wanted to for Paul O'Neil. I have toyed with the idea of just letting bygones be bygones and starting a PC for Nettles, but I could never bring myself to do it. As I get older, the anger in me has subsided and I can see myself starting one in time. I just don't think that time is soon. I already have too many player PC's going and to start another may put my collection in even more chaos than it already is in. Maybe after I get my cards in order and I have some Nettles doubles, I will open up a binder for him.

I would really like to remember him for the plays at third base than my encounters with him. I would prefer to remember how he litterly stole Game 3 of the 1978 World Series from the Dodgers with the plays he made at the hot corner or how I used to argue that Nettles was just as good as Brooks Robinson and he should be in the Hall Of Fame (Naive of me. That .248 life time average will keep him out of the Hall Of Fame). Maybe one day I can fully forgive and forget my meeting with him and instead remember how he capture my imagination and helped a young boy fall in love with a game that after 39 years, the love still burns stronger than ever.

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