Well, one thing was for certain: He wasn't coming. Everything had been a waste. Everything. The personal ad, the post office box, all the cryptic correspondence back and forth for two months, and now this trip down to some godforsaken bar. All of it, wasted.
I pulled his last letter out of my pocket and read it again. Meet next Tuesday night. 7 PM. Bar of Gunning's Crab House. 3901 S. Hanover St. Last booth. I looked at my watch. 7:30. I'd been sitting for over an hour staring at the door. Other than the 6 or 7 people who were already there when I arrived, no one else came in.
The waitress sensed I was getting ready to leave and tried to sell me one more beer, but didn't put too much effort into the sale. She called out, "Another one, hon?" without leaving her stool at the end of the bar. I waved her off, and she happily turned her attention back to the game show on the television.
I didn't know if I should feel angry, or foolish, or relieved. I only knew that I wanted to go. So I grabbed the shopping bag, slid across the black leather bench seat, and headed toward the exit. As I walked up the dark row of booths I brushed by a man sitting alone, facing the opposite direction. He called out faintly, practically leaving it to chance that I would hear him at all, "We still have business." It didn't immediately register what he meant, and I had taken a few more steps before I stopped, then turned toward him. I clutched the bag tight to my side. He was older than I thought he'd be – salt and pepper hair in a crew cut, and heavy framed eyeglasses. I leaned forward and quietly asked, "You?" He nodded the subtlest of nods, and motioned for me to sit.
The advantage I thought I'd gain by getting there early was gone. As I sat down I desperately tried to recall if I even noticed him when I walked in, or if he was there at all. I pointed over his shoulder toward the last booth, "I, I was here." He nodded his head in agreement, but didn't say anything. Still pointing and waving my finger, "I was HERE. ON TIME." Everything came out louder and more shrill than I had intended. He smiled, his mouth full of dental work, "Of course you were." Unlike mine, his words were calm and even. It was as if he were speaking to a child. And I must have seemed like one to him.
The waitress had walked over, cleared the empty beer cans from my old table, and on her way back stopped to ask the man if he'd care for anything else. He requested another drink without offering to buy me one, so I ordered a beer for myself. Then he removed a few bills from a neat stack of money in front of him, to pay for whatever it was he had just finished eating. Somehow that was the worst insult of all – the whole time I was waiting for him, he was just sitting there, with his back to me, having dinner.
Neither of us said a word, not one word, while the waitress walked to the bar, got our drinks, came back, took our money, and left. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence. We just…studied each other. He was sharp, bordering on dapper, and wore a substantial tweed jacket, years out of style, but durable, the way well-made, expensive clothes were meant to be. His gold-striped club tie was done up into a perfect knot, beneath a button-down collar. At the end of the table next to the wall, he had placed his felt hat, a center crease type, with a small feather sticking out of the band. Beside it, a pair of brown leather gloves. No jewelry, not even a wedding ring. No pin on his lapel. Nothing at all to say who he was. We couldn't have looked more different if we tried. For my part I was wearing jeans, tennis shoes, a sweatshirt, and a denim jacket. Everything was shabby, but the jacket was especially inadequate considering the weather.
Only when the waitress was out of earshot did the man speak. He carefully cleared an area of the table in front of him and said, "Let's get down to business, shall we?" And business it was. From our first communication in the early fall, up to that moment, it was nothing but business. An acquaintance had pointed me toward his easily overlooked classified ad, buried in an also easily overlooked weekly newspaper. Maryland sports artifacts for sale or trade. Respond this post office box. My friend was familiar with my quest and advised, "Better get a box of your own. These things can be tricky." That seemed a little extreme, but I did it. And so began our game of cat and mouse. Mysterious, unsigned notes, sometimes only consisting of a word or two, sent back and forth. Some days I'd receive multiple dispatches, followed by periods of unnerving silence. His, always typed, on cream-colored stationery and folded into a postage-paid envelope. Mine, cleverly written in block letters with my right hand, and never mailed from the same location. I had read enough detective novels to know the drill. But what began as a quirky exercise quickly became a consuming passion. I'd eagerly await the mail, hoping for any communication. Once I even tried to "dust" one of his letters for fingerprints, to learn his identity - anything to gain an upper hand in negotiations. Our first attempt to meet was weeks earlier at a bar of my choosing. Everything was painstakingly arranged. But the day of the appointment, a one-word message arrived: Cancel.
We went quiet after that, and I thought he was gone forever, until his most recent note bringing me here. He had chosen well. Business was practically nonexistent. It seemed that those few who came in, out of that chilly, rain-soaked, November night, wanted what we wanted: To be left alone. From nowhere he produced a gray metal box and slid it across the table toward me. The man clasped his hands and whispered, "Open it."
The newest addition to the National Football League arrived in Baltimore on September 27, 1953. A fan responding to a contest named them the Colts. In that very first game the upstart team stunned the mighty Chicago Bears 13-9, and the love affair between Baltimore and its Colts had begun. A dirty blue-collar city had met its match with a dirty blue-collar football team. There were the usual growing pains of anything new, but by only its sixth year in the league, the Colts had lost just three games in the regular season and were poised to play the New York Giants for the NFL Championship.
I lifted the lid slightly, and then stopped, savoring the moment - giddiness - equal parts exhilaration and exhaustion. But the anticipation was more than I could bear, and I quickly raised the cover the rest of the way. The container was packed with a blue terrycloth hand-towel, folded toward the center. I peeled back one side, then the other, and there it was. I reached in and gently removed it. The block of wood was perhaps eight inches in length, and the white paint fairly glowed beneath the dim light overhead. One end was perfectly square, but the other was broken and splintered, exposing the dark interior. It was a piece of lumber, but I cradled it in my hands as though I was holding a baby, and ran my fingers along its sides. I looked up, and could barely speak, managing only a simple, "This is it."
The man reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a leather tobacco pouch. If anybody would smoke a pipe it would be this guy, I thought. But that's not what it was. It was more like a billfold. Inside was a wax paper envelope, and from that he carefully withdrew a torn, purple ticket stub. He handled it by its edges, and held it close enough for me to read, but not touch. December 28, 1958. Yankee Stadium. $7.50. "I was there," he said, reversing the process and carefully returning the ticket to safekeeping. "Oh yes. I was there. Indeed I was."
I had turned my attention back to the wood, rolling it back and forth from one hand to the other, and jabbing my palms with the rough points. The man sat patiently, his hands once again joined, almost in prayer. Finally, I made a simple request: "Tell me everything."
He sat back, drew in a breath, and looked out over my head, somewhere far away. "I was with the Colts from the beginning. The real beginning, back in '47 when they got here from Miami. That came to nothing," he said, shaking his head as though someone had failed to heed his advice long ago. "But when we got them again in '53 I was still there. Had season tickets. Never missed a game," he added proudly, tapping the hidden billfold. "In '58 they won their first six games, and had a nine and one start. That was good enough to take the Western Division, and send them to the championship with the Giants. This town was in an absolute frenzy. The railroad put extra trains on just to take us to New York, and they never did that."
He paused to take a sip of whatever it was he was drinking, and then set the glass down precisely in the center of his coaster. When he continued, he looked right at me, knowing I was hanging on every word. "The New York fans were merciless. They booed the Colts, and booed us as well. They called us farmers, or hicks. But we had the lead 14-3 at the half, and that quieted them down. In the third quarter the Giants took the lead 17-14, and that started the razzing all over." He rocked back and forth in his seat. It was his first display of emotion since I arrived. "Our kicker had missed two earlier field goals, but made his last one – his most important one, with just 7 seconds to play. When the forth quarter ended, the score was tied 17-17. The Championship game was going into overtime. None of us had ever seen anything like that before."
"When play finally resumed, the noise was deafening. The Giants had the ball first, and it was as if our screaming made the defense hold them. They had to punt. And when the Colts took possession, if anything, the screaming got louder. Johnny Unitas got sacked, and it got louder still. It was third and 15, do or die, when Unitas hit Raymond Berry for a first down in Giant territory. Then they drove, and they drove, all the way to the one yard line." The man stopped. His chest was touching the edge of the table. He sat back, almost embarrassed of even that slightest lapse in composure. "Everyone thought the Colts would kick a field goal, but Unitas stayed on the field. He was as cool as could be. He lined everyone up, handed the ball off to Alan Ameche as though they were playing a game of touch in their backyard, and Ameche plowed into the end zone. As he did, the place exploded: From everywhere, Baltimore fans poured onto the field. It was absolute pandemonium. I jumped the rail, and onto the turf with a friend who had been sitting next to me. I didn't see him again until the following day. The New York cops were powerless to stop us. They were all for the Giants and seemed too stunned to do much of anything but watch the celebrating. I saw grown men, grown men, falling down with joy. They were laughing and crying. Some were doing both at the same time. There was one gentleman in a charcoal gray Chesterfield topcoat – he looked as if he could have been the president of a bank – but he was kneeling down and stuffing his pockets with handfuls of dirt and grass. I looked back into the stands. The Giants fans were quietly filing out. One thing was for certain: They weren't calling us farmers anymore."
"Then the mob – that's what we had become, turned to the goal post. I watched as they shook it side to side until it could stand no more. As it came down, some poor fellow was grazed by one of the uprights. Had he received its full force, he certainly would have been killed. We set upon it in an instant. I was at the top of a section when it finally came apart, and dragged off a piece longer than I was tall. Then I wedged it against the bleacher seats, and kicked at it until it splintered and broke. Suddenly people were all around me, grabbing up the fragments."
He reached across the table and took the block from my hands. "I tucked this under my arm, ran out of the stadium, and didn't stop running until I reached the "D" subway train. I've had it ever since." The man reverently wrapped it with the towel, placed it back in its tomb, and closed the lid. He kept the box between us, but closer to his side than mine. "This means the world to me," he finally said, "I would part with it only for something very, very special." He picked up his drink, and took what would be his last sip.
I had no fine metal container. No fancy presentation. I lifted the brown paper bag from its place next to me and pushed it toward the man. As I did, I made sure to nudge the box slightly. He seemed unimpressed as he unrolled it. But removing the contents, his reaction betrayed him: "Oh my."
They were the Banlon days. When I think about my boyhood, I see those knit shirts. I see men mowing lawns wearing shorts, and hard shoes with black socks. I see hats. I see thin neckties.
There was a party at my parents' house – they had lots of them back then. I was in grade school – perhaps seven or eight years old. Silver dishes filled with nuts, silver cups filled with cigarettes, and everywhere, overflowing ashtrays. The hi-fi played music, drowned out by the chatter of a houseful of neighbors. The sexes didn't mix. My mother and her friends were all on the ground floor, my father held court in the basement – that's where the bar was. Plenty of booze, highballs were the drink of choice. It was late at night. I hadn't sneaked down from bed, because I hadn't gone to bed. There was no bedtime on party nights. In the flurry of preparations I could usually manage to keep myself ignored.
I'd stay close to the walls, moving from room to room, stealing handfuls of potato chips – forbidden food on typical nights. Most importantly, I kept out of the way. That was the key to staying up late. Cigarette smoke wafted up the stairwell from the basement to the kitchen. I crept down, although I couldn't possibly make enough noise to be heard above the din. All the men from the neighborhood were there - dozens of them, drinking, smoking, talking, laughing, playing ping-pong, or looking at my father's bowling trophies. Then suddenly, I saw it - someone had removed it from the shelf and sent it around the room. As it went from hand to hand, those who touched it grew quiet. It passed directly over my head, and came to rest with my father – he was perched on an old desk at the far wall. By then everyone was silent. These were the most powerful, most influential men in my limited world, all brought to a standstill by my father. I didn't know what pride was, but that was what I felt. He held it reverently at first. Then he placed it on his left hand, smacked his right fist into it, and announced: "IT'S OUTTA HERE!" With that, the room erupted in cheers.
As long as I could remember, that catcher's mitt had been in our basement. I never gave it a second thought – the mitt being just one small element in the overall clutter my mother was always complaining about. But it held some power over these men. I pushed through the crowd to get a closer look. "I was with Herb Roffey," my father said, still patting the mitt. And with that, the mass uttered a knowing and respectful "Ahh." Everyone knew Mr. Roffey. I was in the second grade, I knew Mr. Roffey. I can still picture him sitting at my parent's kitchen table drinking coffee. He was, what we these days call, the "go to guy." Need something? See Roffey. You name it: tires, cigarettes, annuities, cleaning supplies. Whatever it was, Roffey had it, or could get it. That was Roffey. And always with the angles. Constantly a big deal in the making that was going to get everyone associated with it rich beyond imagination. My father adored him. My mother tolerated him. And my grandmother couldn't stand him. "He's a nogoodnik, I tell you," she would say every time he left the house. For years I thought nogoodnik was really a word.
And so it was no surprise to anyone, myself included, that on October 13, 1960, my father and Roffey were sitting in the stands at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania watching the final game of the World Series between the hometown Pirates and the New York Yankees. It was a lopsided affair in every sense. The Yankees ball club, a classy organization, was loaded with talented, future Hall of Famers. The Pirates, on the other hand, were a patch quilt of mostly no-name cast-offs. These inequities carried over into the final scores. When the Yankees won, they won big. Real drubbings. Sixteen to Three, Ten to Nothing, or Twelve to Nothing. And when the Pirates won, it was almost by accident: Six to Four, or Three to Two. It was common knowledge that New York was the better team, and in the final game they would do whatever was necessary to win it all. Everyone knew that. Everyone that is, except the Pittsburgh Pirates, particularly their second baseman, Bill Mazeroski. For it was he, a man known mostly for his fielding, not hitting capabilities, who stepped up to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning on that sunny autumn afternoon and smacked a homerun over the disbelieving heads of the New York outfielders. Just like that, the Pirates won the 1960 World Series.
There wasn't a man in the basement unfamiliar with that story. Pirate baseball was more religion than sport to them. My father began his adventure in the mayhem that ensued as Mazeroski crossed home plate. Not satisfied with leaping onto the field or joining the 400,000 fans that were already reveling throughout Pittsburgh, Roffey wanted to commemorate the event by visiting the Pirates' locker room. Naturally he knew the guard – or knew an usher who knew the guard – or something like that. He led my father down a set of steps through the bowels of the ballpark. But when they arrived, the throng was greater than even Roffey could penetrate. Undaunted, he walked to the Yankees' locker room, and boldly entered as though he was the team owner, there to console his players.
By now I had inched my way up to the desk where my father was sitting and positioned myself by his side. Like all the other men, I stared at the mitt and joined them in silent adoration. "We stood in the clubhouse and nobody paid us any attention," my father continued, "Everyone was in utter disbelief. All the players were speechless. And I mean all…Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Yogi Berra." These names meant nothing to me, but another chorus of "Ahh" rose up from the congregation. "Then the catcher, Johnny Blanchard, walked right by us and boy did he break the silence." My father leaned over and cupped his hands over my ears. "He threw his mitt on the floor and yelled, "FUCK!" and stormed off." Of course I heard everything, and blushed a little I'm sure. Even a few of the men giggled. This was the 1960's after all, and language like that wasn't as common as it is today. "A minute later Roffey nudged me and motioned toward the door. I wasn't sure why he was in such a hurry to leave until I felt him hiding Blanchard's mitt under my jacket."
And it was that mitt dad was holding as he finished the story. "The ride back to Uniontown took forever. Every street for miles around the ballpark was packed with people celebrating. But we didn't mind. We were delirious over the Pirates victory. Jimmy here wasn't even a week old. By the time we got home Roffey and I had decided to name him 'William Mazeroski Burger'." All the men burst out in laughter and I delighted in being the center of attention. In conclusion my father simply added, "Obviously Lisa didn't agree."
With my presence acknowledged, I then knew it was all right to attend the party. Dad set the mitt down on the desk and I immediately picked it up and put it on. It was huge, swallowing up my hand and arm up to the elbow. I theatrically punched it and yelled like a big-league catcher would, "C'mon boy, put a little pepper on it boy! Throw it right in here boy!" I looked up and beamed at dad. He looked down at me and didn't say a word. But his expression said "Why aren't you in bed?" I sheepishly handed him the mitt and slinked off through the quiet crowd of men. A few of them patted me on the head or ruffled my hair. Just before I ascended the stairs I heard my father sigh and say, "Oy, such a kid."
Over the years the mitt migrated around our basement, moving from one shelf to another, quietly going about its business of being forgotten. My claim to it was made when I left home after high school graduation. I carried very little on the move to Baltimore, but it was a physical link to Pittsburgh sports – the area's sole source of respect. Immediately the glove found a spot on a windowsill in my first apartment, and once again set about doing what it did best – collecting dust.
I told the story to the man as he sat before me in silence. He held the glove in both hands like a religious offering. I didn't mention the party, or Roffey by name. Just the most basic, unembellished facts as I knew them – starting with the Pirates winning the National League pennant, and ending with Blanchard throwing his mitt on the clubhouse floor. When I finished, the man looked down and studied the glove carefully. He flipped it over, stroking one side then the other, and examined the stitches - holding them so closely they practically touched his nose.
When he finally looked up, he didn't make a sound. He took a few dollar bills from the stack and placed them next to his drink, dropped the glove back in the bag, and crumpled its top into a bunch. I thought he was going to hand it back to me. But he stood up, and in rapid succession positioned his hat on his head, pulled on his gloves, gathered up the bag, and began to walk away. It was all I could do to keep up, once I grabbed the box, threw some money on the table, and shuffled out of the booth. We walked past the patrons and the waitress all sitting at the bar watching television. No one appeared to care that we were leaving. Rain blew in the front door as the man opened it. There was no final moment of recognition. No shared smile. No handshake. Not even a goodbye. The man walked down Hanover Street, turned onto Jeffrey Street, and disappeared. I never saw him again - and believe me, I've looked. But I always got the impression he was one of those guys who, if he didn't want to be found, wouldn't be found.
I ran to my car through the rain, and by the time I got inside I was soaked. But I barely noticed. I was beyond thrilled. I opened the box and used the blue towel to wipe my face and once again held the piece of the goal post in my hands. It was mine. Finally. It was mine.
Looking back, I realize that's when it happened. Until then, I was a displaced soul, a student just passing through Baltimore. I was either going to go back where I came from, or go somewhere else – and it really didn't matter which. But with that transaction I traded away a useless relic of my boyhood for a literal shard of history. I sat a while longer. And it was there, with a driving rain pounding all around me, I took the first step on my journey to become a Baltimorean.
No matter the residence, that piece of wood always enjoyed a place of honor. In my apartment it was kept on the mantle above the fireplace. After I purchased my first house I constructed a special display case befitting such an historic find. In time I added dozens of items to my Baltimore memorabilia collection – a brick from the House of Welsh scavenged from its rubble, the men's room light from the defunct Irish Pub, my final bar bill from the Harvey House, and a returnable bottle of National Bohemian beer from the last batch brewed in the city. Still, the chunk of goal post from what sports historians called "The Greatest Football Game Ever Played" was the unrivaled centerpiece of the treasury. Rare was the visitor to my home who did not ask to see it, and I never failed to retell its storied past.
The years drifted by, and in November of 1998 the Goddess Fortuna, without any provocation, once again smiled down upon me. A renewed interest in the 1958 Championship game arose as its 40th anniversary approached. Some Baltimore businessmen organized an enormous gathering of those Colt players still alive, booked the biggest catering hall in the area, and sold 1600 tickets. It was billed as "The Greatest Colt Reunion Ever Held." At that time I was enjoying modest success in the cutthroat industry of sports photography, mostly because I was taken under the protective wing of a Falstaffian fellow named Jerry Wachter. He was the dean of Baltimore's sports photographers and had a sterling national reputation with 32 Sports Illustrated covers to his credit.
The planners of the event decided to have a group picture taken of the 1958 squad. To record such a momentous gathering no one less than Wachter would do, and I jumped at the chance to assist him on the shoot. Hours before the affair, we painstakingly set up lights in the lobby, and at the appointed time I herded the 26 players into position on the grand staircase. Apt imagery – the men moved like aging buffalo, and took up about as much space. But the great ones were there, looking resplendent – Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Gino Marchetti, Artie Donovan, and Lenny Moore. The session lasted not even two minutes, but it was truly a remarkable gathering – even the players seemed to realize its significance. Later, as we gathered up our equipment, I could tell Jerry was pleased. He had no way of knowing I was about to commit the sports photographers' cardinal sin – I was going to ask for an autograph.
On the back of any press pass, the regulations are spelled out with great clarity – Autograph Seeking Strictly Prohibited. It was a rule I could easily live with. I never much cared for the professional athletes I photographed, and most of the time didn't even know who they were. The last thing I would have wanted was their signature. Still, I began formulating my plan practically from the moment Jerry asked for my help. In my mind I played and replayed my fantasy – how I would find a quiet moment when I could take Johnny Unitas aside – how I could show him the piece of the goal post under which he had celebrated years earlier. We'd chat about what it meant to us both, and when the moment was just right, I'd hand him the pen.
By the time I stowed the last of the gear, the team had lumbered off toward an enormous meeting room where their most adoring followers were waiting. Jerry trailed close behind snapping photos, and I sneaked out a side entrance to my car. Everything was going perfectly. I shoved the post deep into my camera bag and dashed back inside undetected.
The veterans were seated at long tables, and the line of middle-aged devotees snaked through the room, out the door, down the hallway, and around the corner. Those lucky enough to secure one of the $150 dollar tickets were allowed to bring one item for the player or players of his choice to sign. It was a sports collectors' heaven, with all manner of Baltimore Colt antiquities represented – too many footballs to count, helmets, jerseys, dog-eared programs, old cereal boxes, and tattered pennants. Everything had a memory behind it. My camera provided excellent cover as I moved around behind the tables and eavesdropped on the stories surrounding each man's object. No one could resist relating the circumstances or some anecdote as they handed over their treasure for signing.
Eventually I positioned myself behind Unitas. Getting him someplace alone was out of the question - nevertheless I had time on my side. All I had to do was be patient and wait for a break in the action. I unzipped my bag and arranged the wood and the magic marker I had specially purchased where I could easily reach them.
Unitas was the man everyone knew. Everyone wanted to shake his hand. And they all called him "Johnny." Remarkable was how many people he recognized and even called by name. I watched as dozens visited. He listened patiently to the tales they told, and signed whatever was put in front of him.
Two older men approached. They wore tattered, faded-blue blazers with horseshoes sewn on the breast pockets. Each was carrying a hunk of white wood about two feet in length, and covered with signatures. As they handed them over, one of them asked, in a gravely voice, "Do you know what these are?" Unitas was searching for a place to sign his name and barely looked up. He responded in his unmistakable southern twang, "Oh, I've got a pretty good idea." But just to be sure, the first man answered his own question. " They're pieces of the goal post from the big one. We were there." Then the other man added, "The big one." Unable to find a clear spot, Unitas scribbled his name over some other autographs and handed back the pieces. Without saying anything else, the men turned and tottered away. I felt a little dizzy and slumped back against the wall. Unitas leaned toward his old teammate sitting next to him and said, "If I had all the pieces of that goal post I've signed over the years, I'd have enough timber to build a house."
I was devastated. Horrified. The two old men were leaving the room. I quickly grabbed my camera bag. As I did, I heard the magic marker fall on the floor and roll into the darkness. By the time I got out from behind the tables they were gone, and I only found them as they were heading toward their assigned seats in the banquet hall. I called out, but they kept walking – they were practically deaf. Grabbing their sleeves I turned the pair around, maybe a little too roughly.
"Excuse me," I said without introducing myself, "What are those?"
The first man steadied himself. "These are pieces of the goal post from the '58 Championship game. We were there."
The other man added, "We were there."
I set down my bag. "May I see?" Everything about them was different from mine. Their wood was much lighter in color, and not nearly as dense. The most drastic difference was the paint. Mine was a bright white, and glossy. These were coated in a more flat finish, with some gray added. I held them both in my hands, until the old men finally reached out and took them from me. As they turned away I asked, "Where did you get them?" In unison they responded, "We were there."
I sat down at one of the round tables and didn't move for a long time. It was set for a feast, with a huge arrangement of blue and white flowers in the center. Seated at the next table was a couple, about my parents' age. Both were wearing what appeared to be their old Colt Marching Band uniforms. Suddenly everything seemed so preposterous, and I just wanted to go home.
As I left the building I passed by the line to get into the meeting room. There was still no end in sight. A man and what was probably his grandson was about to enter. The little boy was carrying a white piece of wood about the length of a baseball bat.
Most of the next day had passed before I got up the nerve to dial the phone. My father picked it up on the first ring.
"Hi, it's me. How are you?"
"Fine. How are you?"
My father and I never lacked things to talk about, but this time there were huge gaps in the conversation. Finally he said, "Your mother's not here. She went to the store."
"That's okay," I said. Then I blurted out, "Oh, Pop. I really messed something up."
"Hold on." I could hear him squirming around in his chair, reaching for the television remote, and turning off whatever talk show he was watching. "What's up?"
I didn't know where to begin. "I lost Johnny Blanchard's mitt. I mean I traded it, and I shouldn't have."
"Who's Johnny Blanchard?"
"Um, the catcher, for the Yankees. From the World Series. You had his mitt."
He started to chuckle, "Oh yeah, that was one of my good ones."
"What do you mean "good ones"?" I sat down and stood up right away – a nervous habit I have while talking on the phone. "So whose mitt was it? Where did you get it?"
"I don't know - probably a B'nai Brith baseball tournament. I was catcher for a few games. That was a long time ago. What's this all about?"
I sat down then stood up again. "Well did you go to that World Series game?"
"Of course not. Your mother was in the hospital. She just had a baby. She just had you…besides, I didn't have a ticket."
I walked over and looked at the piece of wood sitting on my bookshelf. It had only been there overnight, but already it had collected a little bit of dust. "Then you weren't going to name me after Bill Mazeroski?"
My father was silent for a moment, and then said, "You're kidding right? Hey, I hear the garage door. I think your mother's home. You want to say hi to her?"
I sat down, and stayed down. "Tell her I'll call back later."
I kept the phone to my ear, I'm not sure why. And I don't know if it's possible to hear a person shake his head, but I swear, that's what I heard. Then very distinctly my father sighed and said, "Oy, such a kid." Then a click. Then nothing at all.