One week before pitchers and catchers report to spring training, our next Pinch Hitter is Pam Adams, who originally wrote a slightly longer version of this piece in a travel journal. “When I wrote it, I wasn’t thinking about blogs or anything like that,” she said. “I just wrote until I was finished.” What she wrote is the story of a chance meeting with one of her favorite Yankees.
Pam moved to New York City from North Carolina in September of 2009. There were two reason: She’d wanted to live in the City since she visited as a teenager, and she was starting graduate school at NYU. In May, Pam will graduate with her master’s degree in social work. “I don’t have much experience in writing,” she said, “with the exception of the zillions of papers I’ve had to write in social work school, a personal journal, and an occasional letter to a judge, congressman or senator.”
I remember the day that my love affair with the New York Yankees began. I was 10 years old, and the day was October 18th, 1977. I was living in a small city in North Carolina, and I was watching Game 6 of the World Series. I didn’t really know much about the Yankees, and I was watching the game because my father was watching. My mother casually mentioned that my grandfather had been signed by the Yankees when he was a young ballplayer, though he never made it to the big stage. My ears perked up, and I started to pay closer attention. Reggie Jackson kept hitting homeruns, and I was getting caught up in the crowd’s excitement. I thought Bucky Dent was the cutest boy I had ever seen.
And so it began. I was in love with the New York Yankees.
From that point on, I couldn’t get enough. I started to collect baseball cards, and I pored over the stats and facts on the back of the cards featuring Yankees players. I searched the sports page daily for news, stories and box scores. I checked out books from the library and learned about Yankees history. I read biographies about Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, and Yogi Berra. In spite of Bucky Dent’s Tiger Beat-worthy good looks, Thurman Munson became my favorite Yankee (he still is). I was 11 when he died, and I cried when I heard the news.
My family hovered around the poverty line for my entire childhood, so travelling to New York to catch a game wasn’t anywhere near the realm of possibility. I knew I’d never see these guys in person, so I wrote letters instead. I wrote to each of the position players, as well as my favorite pitchers. My efforts were rewarded when I received autographed pictures in the mail from Tommy John, Chris Chambliss, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, and Bucky Dent (swoon).
The ’77 Yankees will always be my favorite teams for deeply sentimental reasons.
Jump with me now to 2009. It’s March, and I’m in Tampa to watch the Yankees play the Phillies in a spring training game. My friend, also named Pam (who from here on out will be referred to as “Other Pam”), accompanied me. She’s a little older than me and has been a Yankees fan for most of her life. She understands why I’m excited because she’s excited too — and for the same reasons. More importantly, she remembers the 1977 Yankees.
We were looking for a place to park our car near George M. Steinbrenner Field. We got waved into a lot that was directly across from the stadium; the parking lot belonged to a store that specialized in autographed Yankees memorabilia (forgive me for not remembering the name of the place). As I handed the guy our $10, he handed me a voucher.
“Come by after the game,” he said. “People who park here today are invited to an autograph session with a Yankee.”
“Who?” the two of us asked simultaneously.
The gentleman told us he didn’t know yet, but it would be a past or current Yankee. After the game, Other Pam and I started to walk back to the car. We decided, “What the hell? Let’s see who’s signing autographs.” So we got in line and waited.
After a few minutes, a familiar name started travelling across the lips of the people standing in front of us. “It’s Mickey Rivers!” I heard someone murmur. My jaw dropped. Mickey Rivers? The all-star center fielder from my beloved 1977 Yankees? Mick the Quick? Number 17? That Mickey Rivers? I looked at Other Pam. “That’s big,” I said. “This is huge, “she replied.
Suddenly, I felt star struck. Nervous. Shy. Losing my nerve. It was as if I had regressed back to my 10-year-old self, and then those feelings turned to dread. I found myself wanting to get to the car and get out of there as fast as I could. My hands were trembling, and my heart was racing. I was completely caught off guard by my reaction. What was I so worried about? And then I identified the thought that was the source of my fear…
What if he were a jerk?
Seriously. What if Mickey Rivers were a Grade A jerk? What if he mocked me? What if he turned bitter and cynical? What if he just wanted to sign my baseball and get the hell out of there? What if he didn’t care about me and the fact I adored him when I was a little girl? What if I put my Yankees-loving heart out there and he stomped all over it? With cleats? It would ruin everything.
And then I thought about a time several years earlier when I had the opportunity to meet another childhood idol, Evonne Goolagong, at an exhibition tennis match in Charlotte. While standing in line to meet her, I was trying to come up with something really profound or funny or interesting to say to her. When I made it to the front of the line, I froze. The only thing I managed to say to this tennis legend was “Pam” in a meek stammering voice when she asked me for my name. I walked away, autographed program in hand, and I was mentally kicking myself. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!! Evonne Goolagong thinks I’m an idiot!”
I decided that I was not going to repeat my mistake with Mick the Quick. I was going to take a chance. And if it turned out that he were a jerk, I’d learn to live with it. I was going to say something that would mean something to him. But what? A little voice inside my head whispered, “Just be honest.”
I kept craning my neck around the people in front of me. I caught a few glimpses of him, and he looked the same except his hair was a little grayer. I kept watching his face, his body language. Was he being nice? Was he friendly?
When I finally found myself standing in front of the great Mickey Rivers, he casually raised his arm to reach for whatever item I was going to offer to be autographed. He did not look up at me when he did this. My heart was still racing, and my hands were still trembling. I took a deep breath, wet my lips, and offered my hand to him instead of my baseball. I said in as strong of a voice as I could muster, “Mr. Rivers, I have been a fan of yours since I was 10 years old, and it is such an honor and a privilege to meet you.” Internally, I cringed. Did that sound too cheesy? Stupid? It didn’t matter. It was too late to reconsider. My Yankees-loving heart was out there and splayed all over the table. I held my breath and anxiously awaited his response.
“Please don’t be jerk.”
He looked up, and our eyes met. He smiled and accepted my hand, squeezing it. He looked over his right shoulder and asked the security guard who was standing behind him, “Did you hear that, man?” The guard responded, “Yeah, that gave me chills.”
And the scenario that played out in front of me was exponentially better than anything I could have imagined. Mickey Rivers stood up and said, “C’mere, girl” as he walked around the table. He wrapped his arms around me, hugged me, and kissed the top of my head. “Thank you,” he said. I felt my throat starting to tighten as warm wet tears filled my eyes — tears of relief and unmitigated joy. “Thank you.”
He wasn’t a jerk. He was the complete opposite of a jerk. He was… the anti-jerk. He teased me a little bit for getting emotional and then he autographed my baseball and posed for a picture with me. He was more wonderful than I had ever hoped, and he provided me with my favorite Yankees memory. Ever.
Photo from the official Mick the Quick website