“Write what you love.” Those were my only instructions for choosing who and what to write about, and how and why to write about them. We can do that. We make that work. Hoops are great, sure, but what I really have to talk about is my experience with baseball. Before we branch off and jump head first into some fun stories though, we’ll need a little context.
Love at First Stat
Baseball was the only thing I cared about as a child. I don’t know how else to put it; reading, watching, and talking the game was all I ever wanted to do. Sometimes I think the childhood practice of sitting with lists of statistics and memorizing them for hours and hours on end was what made me capable of handling the medical school curriculum 15 years down the road. I literally learned to read from the standings and statistics in the sports section of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The magnitude of this love cannot be overstated.
When I was four years old, there was an… “incident” wherein I had a disagreement with one of my mom’s friends. I have no recollection of this, but I’m told she said rather loudly in front of young Adam, “Oh, that’s cute! He likes looking at the pictures!” My poor mother had to explain to her friend that, despite my young age, I was actually reading the paper for the content and had firm opinions on everything from baseball’s post-strike recovery to the utility of the designated hitter. This apparently didn’t register with her. The woman took it upon herself to come over and ask in a patronizing tone, “Well, did New York win?” As the story I’m told goes, I looked up, death-glared her right in the eyes, hit her with “Mets? Or Yankees?” and threw the paper down while walking away.
Living the Dream
My parents seized upon this passion and did everything within their means to nurture it despite the Reds’ best efforts to achieve peak mediocrity at the time. My first autograph was the eminently forgettable San Diego Padres shortstop Donaldo Méndez on the sweaty cardboard insert I pulled out of my hat three seconds prior, and I burned my hands crawling across the sunbaked dugout roof at Riverfront Stadium to get it. If that doesn’t sound like a classic old man “walked uphill both ways” story, I don’t know what does. I will never forget the experience.
Then, once I was around ten years old, we started to really do some damage. My dad took me to Reds spring training in 2002 in Sarasota, Florida, on a whim. It was all over from there. For ten days straight, we would arrive two-and-a-half hours before gametime to watch every single batting practice pitch, watch the game, watch postgame batting practice, and go talk to Sean Casey while he hung around until everyone in the stadium had everything they owned and wanted signed bearing his name (the man was “The Mayor” of Cincinnati long before he was “The Mayor” of America, and it turns out we never really missed Dave Burba). It was a ritual. We were hooked. Baseball traveling became “our thing.” Family vacations were now baseball vacations. My mom adapted pretty well as per usual, but my poor, sports-agnostic brother never knew what hit him.
My dad worked as a sales rep, and he would often fly out to meetings on the weekends, taking yours truly along as a travel buddy. For example, one time I was “home sick from school” on a Friday and flew out to Los Angeles with him; we saw a Dodgers game Friday night, I spent the day Saturday playing video games in the hotel while he went to meetings, we went to an Angels game that night, we drove down for a Padres day game on Sunday, and we flew back that night with me narrowly managing to recover from my “illness” in time to be back in school Monday morning. Three ballparks in three days, a bunch of video games, and the absolute highest-quality father-son bonding time there is. Lather, rinse, repeat in a new city. What else can you ask for as a kid? Talk about making memories… The man is a special kind of genius.
So off we went. We drove and flew around the country whenever my itinerary-Rain-Man of a father could swing it, competing with each other on a now-ancient handheld MLB Trivial Pursuit game to pass the travel time along the way. By the time I was 16 years old, I had been to an MLB game in all 30 extant ballparks- we did the old MasterCard commercial (but thankfully didn’t end up getting sued, yikes). We even purposefully saved Yankee Stadium for the last of the 30 parks because, as lifelong Yankee haters, it was “the last place we would ever want to go.”
A running total of 39 ballparks, 15 consecutive Reds Opening Days, four All-Star Games, a couple of spring trainings and World Baseball Classics, card show after card show, meeting about 2/3 of the living Hall of Famers (many of whom are no longer around and serve as the inspiration for the title of this series), and quite possibly the best game in baseball history later, I think about how incredibly, mind-blowingly lucky I’ve been to be able to have these kinds of experiences. I am grateful for them every single day of my life.
So How Did All This Alleged Cool Stuff Happen?
“Dad, what are you doing?”
“Giving opportunity the chance to knock.”
Just like that, he delivered the tagline that came to define our trips. We had just left one of the days of FanFest for the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis, a drivable distance from Cincinnati and our second such experience. So down the street we trekked to the hotel where there was buzz that the legends were staying. Vacation is vacation – what else would we do, head back to the hotel where we were staying? That’s a funny thought.
We walk in the hotel lobby and turn the corner. Boom, Robin Roberts and Gaylord Perry hanging out at the hotel bar – two Hall of Fame pitchers shooting the breeze about old memories over a drink. No one else was around, and we never bothered them; but where else in the world can you casually observe that kind of thing? And how often do guys like them get the chance to just sit at a bar and bond with a kindred spirit with no interference, buzz, or pesky autograph hunters. This quiet moment truly spoke to me, and all of it was because we were “giving opportunity the chance to knock.”
We were in the right place at the right time. That’s my answer for how all of this happened. We showed up and gave opportunity the chance to knock. Just by doing this, I have: eaten lunch one-on-one with Bob Feller, played catch with Pedro Martinez, shaken hands with Hank Aaron because he thought I was related to the owner of Louisville Slugger, received a knuckleball lesson from Phil Niekro, gotten a shoulder massage from Stan Musial (that story turns out to be a tearjerker a few years down the road), watched nine innings talking and eating free ice cream with James Carville and Tim Russert, gotten hung by my heels over the wall at a Home Run Derby, met world homerun leader Sadaharu Oh in a hotel at 3am, and done dozens upon dozens of other crazy baseball things.
The random chance events should be pointed out as well, lest we forget the time I accidentally became fake-famous all over New York, a piece of evidence in A*Roid’s lawsuit, and a pretty versatile meme on Yahoo Sports effectively overnight. If you click on any of the links in this article, let it be these ones. We were truly in the right place at the right time thanks to our friend opportunity and the chance we gave it to knock.
Needless to say, there are some stories to tell. If some is good, more is better. I’ve even been sitting on this one from the 2017 All-Star Game for two years until right this second.
Okay, Let’s Start Telling Stories
“You can’t make this stuff up.” That’s what I would always say. It’s exactly how I would describe this childhood if Al Michaels hadn’t already stolen the name of my future autobiography. But every time I said it, I was met with “You need to write this all down before you forget it one day!” Thanks, Mom. So that’s where we are now: Adam trying to chronicle story after story about the grand endeavor of actually meeting his heroes before he forgets anything and Mom can say she told him so.
“Today… I consider myself… the luckiest man… on the face of the Earth.” Well, Lou, I’d say you have some competition. I think about it every single day. I’ll never forget these experiences no matter how much Mom swears I will.
Since I’m writing for a site that started out with a focus on Philadelphia, we can start with my best Phillies story. Let’s proceed with Part One of Always Meet Your Heroes.