A 5-year-old & the Meaning of Jeter

This entry was originally written in July 2011 as New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter approached his 3,000th career hit, a milestone that the boy wonder, Ian, had become transfixed by the number, why it was such a big deal, and how one player could possible have that many base hits all by himself.

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TOWER GROVE — The difference between 2,999 hits and 3,000 could be the reaction time of one third baseman, the decision of an official scorer, or the deluge that washes out a first-inning single. In the scope of a career, it’s infinitesimal, and yet 3,000 looms so large, so historically significant, so, well, round that the distance between 2,999 and 3,000 is a hundred hits if it’s one.

Ask a 5-year-old.

My son Ian and I were walking to a nearby park this past week with our baseball gloves for a throw. Each glove had a baseball tucked inside because, you know, keeping a pocket formed is something we’re required to pass from generation to generation. From the night I came home from the 2006 World Series reeking of champagne crossfire to a visit to condemned Yankee Stadium to the spring trainings spent away, baseball has always been a presence in my son’s life. Only recently has baseball become an interest. He asks a lot about the players. He offers play-by-play during games. He wants to know what team to root for when Arizona and Minnesota meet in interleague play (don’t we all?). And several times in the past month, he’s stirred in the middle of the night to creep downstairs and watch the late game with me.

One recent night he poked me on the shoulder until I woke up so he could ask, “Daddy, can we go watch the highlights?”

It was 3:15 a.m. Continue reading

Where Musial and Mantle Meet

DOWNTOWN — Early in this past baseball season, two books stayed snug together near my desk, on my nightstand or in my carry-on — constant tagalongs as I studiously picked through them for insights and inspiration. Both were biographies. Both were well written. One was a narrative frolic merrily skipping through a Hall of Famer’s past with the crystal-clear reverence of a fan. The other was more of a narrative ordeal, a no-quarter-given examination of a Hall of Famer, warts and glory, that shows what happens when the lens through which a fan views a hero cracks.

The books served as compelling companions during a season because not only did the writers take similar, intensely personal angles on their subjects — rather than the detached, stoic eye of a stodgy biographer — to arrive at different views, the books were also about two icons of the sport, one fading from his prime as the other shot to stardom: Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle.

These are the players that bind generations in my family.

Continue reading

The Thrill of a Wax Pack

VAIL, Colo. — At a sports memorabilia shop in Denver we visited early during our guys’ trip, the owners were clearly trying to pull a mom — clear out the clutter from my childhood.

In a back corner, the shop had staples from those heady collecting days of the late 1980s and early 1990s at deep discounts. A few tables were organized with boxes of baseball cards, most on sale for $6.99, or more than half off. The usual suspects were there: Donruss 1989, complete with technicolor borders; Donruss 1988; some Leaf boxes; a stack or two of Topps football cards; and the familiar green box that holds Upper Deck 1990. Walk past the pyramids of over-printed baseball cards and there was a haystack of Starting Lineup figures. Dumped in tubs or lined up on the table were figures going for as little as $1.99.

The Kevin Maas in home Yankee whites — no pinstripes! — was priced to move. Continue reading