Thursday, May 14, 2009

Happy Birthday!!!!

Some pretty big names in the baseball world blew out candles this week, Yogi Berra and Tony Gwynn particularly…These two Hall Of Famers have accomplished so much in their careers and lives, but they do both share 2 distinctive characteristics with me. They both have a deep love for the game of baseball and they are both proud fathers.
An excellent segue if I do say so myself, today is May 13th and is coincidentally the 13th birthday of my youngest son, Darvey.
I’ll be honest; I am not going to be receiving any father of the year nominations anytime soon. The last real birthday I spent with him was his 8th, which was awesome!!!Thirty of his closest friends beating on a piñata in my front yard, how could it be anything but awesome?
His mother and I do not get along, never really have, we stuck it out for his benefit for a while, but it got to a ridiculous level. We fought often; actually, we fought all the time. She yelled, she broke things, but he took it in stride. I assure you, loyal reader of Collective Troll, that this post is in fact baseball related, but you will have to bear with a few paragraphs of a father musing about the love of his Son.
Darvey didn’t really like baseball. He grew up around it, his room was decorated with it, he had baseballs and a glove in his crib and his mobile sang “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”. His first television memory may in fact be of the Yankees defeating the Braves in 6 games, watching from my lap at 5 months old. Still, he wasn’t really a baseball fan in the typical sense. He did suffer through it for my sake. He managed to have fun at Devil Rays games and he found reasons to visit the card shop with me.
He is a natural lefty, but was ambidextrous. He throws left handed, but can hit either way. Actually, he had both gloves and was equally good throwing with either hand. Catch was not his favorite childhood pastime, but I remember one time we played, quite clearly. He was around 7 and his mother and I had just had a pretty brutal fight. I was on the back porch with my head buried in my lap and I was crying. He walked out there with 2 baseball gloves and a ball and said “Daddy, let’s play catch”. We did, well into the night.
He was fascinated by my card and autograph collection. I have a tin, in which I keep all of my index card autographs. One day I was going through it Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, “Darevy”. Huh? He had signed a card and spelled his name incorrectly. “It’s an error” he told me. I still keep it in with my autographs and it never fails to make me smile.
I used to take him with me to the card shop all the time. He loved to rip wax with me. He just didn’t really care what he pulled, that is, until he discovered Yu Gi Oh cards.
He had an Ultra Pro book filled with his favorites and he made awesome, kid style lists of what he wanted. I bought him what I could, whenever I could. A few summers ago, he was VERY into YGO cards. I ran out of money before he filled his list. I had a 1963 Mickey Mantle card that I wasn’t doing anything with. We brought it to the card shop and traded it and finished that list and then some. The guy at the card shop thought I was insane. He actually said it, too. He tried hard to talk me out of it, but the happiness my son got with those cards so made it worth it…
So, today is his birthday. A few phone calls attempted, but no success. So here I am, crying to my keyboard. This will turn into a baseball post, I promise!
In the spring of 1997, Darvey was an infant. I was a White Sox fan and they conveniently spring trained one town away. At that point, the Sox were the last team I had played for (there were more comeback attempts, see future blogs) and I knew a few guys in the system. The Sox had brought in some off-season power, in Albert Belle and a few super veteran personalities in guys like Tony Pena, Danny Darwin and Doug Drabek. Plus, they had some honest, good young talent in guys like Mike Cameron and Ray Durham playing alongside vets like Robin Ventura, Harold Baines and Frank Thomas.
It was early March and vets had just reported. Darvey was eight months old and decked out in a White Sox onesie. We got to the park early, just as the guys were hitting the field and the batting cages. Being this close to the field brought me back, but today I was a proud papa, not a failed baseballer. Still, it was good to smell the pine tar and hear the crack of the bat again. I stood there, on the other side of the fence, gazing at my boy and taking in all of the familiar smells and sounds of the game, and then the crack of the bat suddenly got hollowed. Ray Durham had been taking his swipes in front of us and he had broken his bat. Immediately, 50 pre-teen and teenage boys ran to that sound and surrounded him. “Mister Durham, Mister Durham, can I have that bat?” they all squawked over and over again. Ray seemed oblivious to the circling (and shouting) sharks and walked towards me and the stroller. “I’m giving this bat to the baby” he proclaimed. I said “Thank you!” over and over again to him as the gaggle of lumber vultures disappeared. I could hear one mumble “Stupid babies, they get everything” as he walked away. I asked Ray to sign the broken stick. “To Darvey, best wishes, Ray Durham” he wrote across the barrel in bold blue sharpie. Then he asked if he could hold my son. I handed him over and replaced him in my hands with my trusty Canon EOS 1 and seized this photo op. Ray and Darvey were totally enthralled with each other and I snapped away. I learned later that Ray was expecting his son very soon; apparently he wanted a little practice. His teammates were pretty baby envious, within minutes there was a crowd of Sox around Ray and Darvey. With my permission he passed him around the horn. Durham to Guillen to Ventura to Karkovice. Baby and players alike were loving this exchange!
I was enjoying it a bit myself; I had a huge smile on my face as I shot picture after picture, pausing only to load a fresh roll of Ektachrome in my EOS 1. Just as that group all had turn at baby holding, a fresh group of (then) youngsters headed over. Jimmy Hurst, Mark Johnson, Norberto Martin and Chris Snopek all got their turn at hanging out with my baby and I stayed back, capturing everyone’s smile on film.
Lyle Mouton was the last of the newbies to arrive. When he scooped my son up, I asked him, “hey Lyle, when is your birthday?” I already knew the answer, but awaited his response. “The 13th of May” he replied.
“Well, you two share a birthday” I told him. He smiled bigger as he bounced my baby up and down. A few minutes passed when he said “Hopefully, on our birthdays, I will be in Chicago. There is a lot of competition here in camp, so I don’t know, I am just gonna do my best.”
“You practically hit .300 last year, it’s a lock” I said.
“Well, I hope so, but just in case, the first birthday is pretty important, so…” He paused and handed my sweaty son back to me and walked over to his gear bag and grabbed two baseballs and a shiny new(read: uncracked), black Louisville Slugger bat.
He walked back over to us and asked “Gotta pen?”
Of course I did. I handed him two sharpies, a blue one and a silver one. He signed the ball and set it on the stroller, then signed the bat and set is beside the ball. He handed the other ball to Darvey along with the marker and asked him to sign it. He grabbed the pen with his infant fist and dragged it across the ball. Lyle grabbed the ball from him and Darvey made a face like he just got punched in the mouth. Lyle was a Dad himself and knew this face well. You can’t take something from a baby and expect good things. Darvey was on the verge of a scream when Lyle took his hat off and handed it to my son. He (Lyle) held on tight to the ball Darvey had just “signed”. “Hopefully” Lyle said “Someday, this stuff will be worth something, someday, I’ll do my best” I began my broken record recital of “Thank you!” as he started to walk away. He said “It’s a fair trade, this ball is gonna be my good luck charm.”
With the ball still clutched in his hand, Lyle grabbed his gear bag, waved goodbye and ran towards the rest of his team. Dumbfounded, I stared at my boy. I didn’t know what to say, people were so nice! I think I said something like, “Wow, Darvey, you really are special”.
Holding onto him, I stuffed everything else into the stroller. All the young guys were starting to scrimmage on a field a few hundred yards away. Just a few of the veteran players remained taking their swats in BP. This was okay; I only had one picture left to take. I rolled towards the cage where Albert Belle was. If you, the reader, are looking for a negative story of “Joey” exploding and eating my child, you are in the wrong place! I am a fan and supporter of Albert Belle and I even like to refer to him as a friend. I’m one of the lucky few “reporters” to do an in-depth interview with Albert Belle (another blog, another day) and I will always fight for his honor and memory. I am and always will be an Albert Belle fan!
So, we park the stroller and listen to the “thwack!” as Baines, Belle, Thomas and Ventura each take turns sending balls into orbit. We were witnessing the 1997 version of the “Southside Hitmen”. Belle had just launched 10 in a row into traffic on Tuttle Avenue and he walked over with a smile on his face. This was before Albert and I had met and spoke. He had just signed on with the Sox this offseason. “Cute kid”, he muttered.
Most of the fans and media had disappeared to watch the inter-squad game. “Wanna hold him?” I asked Albert. He stretched out his arms and grabbed him. His smirk quickly turned to a smile and I quickly grabbed my camera. “You’re not with the press, are you?” he asked. “Not today, I’m not gonna ruin your image” I told him. He asked Darvey if he wanted to trade caps with him. I cut in and said “that hat is pretty special; it’s not up for trade, not even with Albert Belle”.
“You don’t want my hat? You’ve already got some bats, I’m not doing too good” he said.
“This picture is worth way more than bats or hats” I told him. He handed Darvey back to me and I said “Good luck this year, anything short of the World Series is a failure”. I think everyone remembers the Florida Marlins beat Albert’s old Indians team that year in the Fall Classic. Still, that day was far from a failure….
I shot 12 rolls of film that day and I had what I now refer to as “perma-grin” as Darvey and I rode home that day. I had to go to work really soon, but even as I weaved through traffic, that smile never left my face. I got home ten minutes before my shift started and I carried my son upstairs to our apartment with the Ray Durham bat tucked under my arm. I remember saying “Tell your mommy about this bat and your special day” as I handed him to his mother and changed my shirt for work. After I kissed him goodbye, I reminded his mother that his diaper bag and my camera gear and some other goodies were still in the car and if she could please grab them for me. I ran out the door quickly, assuming the answer to that question would be yes, and headed off to work (I worked less than a mile away, cheaper, easier, healthier to walk)
Later that night, as I walked towards my car and our apartment, I noticed a whole bunch of broken glass. I walked towards my car and sure enough, the back window was knocked out. The car was empty. I really hoped that the break-in was for the stereo or something and my camera and our bats and balls were safe upstairs.
They weren’t. Only the Ray Durham bat survived. Thousands of dollars of camera equiptment, a bat, hat, balls, a diaper bag full of toys (and diapers) and a dozen rolls of film, all gone!
We did run into Harold Baines the following week, like the class act he is, he obliged for a picture, but it wasn’t the same. Memories, however, do live forever, as illustrated (typed) right here.
Now for some big league birthday wishes!!!!
Darvey is not the only super creative, non-baseball playing individual born today…Deceased, but still rocking musicians, Ritchie Valens and Mary Wells were born today. Peter Gabriel and Stevie Wonder both have 59 candles on their respective cakes today. Hootie himself, Darius Rucker is 43 and PMD, one half of the legendary hip-hop band EPMD is 41.
Former heavy-weight boxing champion, Joe Louis was born today. Not only was he one of the hardest punchers ever (just ask Max Schmeling) he was also the first person of color to play in a PGA event in 1952.
Happy Birthday to actor Harvey Keitel, the star of those edgy Tarantino and Scorsese films is 70 today. Bea Arthur and Robert Middleton were both born today, too, but have since left us. Shy and understated, former power forward, Dennis Rodman is 48 today. He is not the only ridiculously tall person who celebrates on May 13th. Former North Carolina State University center (and pro-draft-bust) Chris Washburn is 44. Former Arizona and present Atlanta Hawks point guard, Mike Bibby, is 31 today. Stephen Colbert, whose show will hopefully still be on when I finish this post, is 45 today. There are probably some football players who are celebrating today, but, I would rather skip ahead to those who’ve played with a team of nine.
Happy 82nd Birthday to Dusty Rhodes and his famous pinch-hit home run in the 1954 World Series. Happy 49th Birthday to former Twins shortstop Lenny Faedo. Former Mets and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine is 59 today. I never liked him much as a coach, but in high school, his restaurant “Bobby V’s” employed a bunch of my friends. He is currently managing the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Nippon Pro League in Japan.
17-year big league vet Juan Beniquez is also 59 today. I remember him as a short stop, but he won a gold glove as an outfielder. Oh, and he collected 1,274 hits along the way. Jose Rijo, the World Series MVP in 1990, turns 43 today. With 116 wins, he used to be the winningest pitcher born on this date.
Then, along came Barry Zito. The 3-time All Star and 2002 Cy Young award winner, has 124 victories and 31 candles on his cake. Former “Baby Backs” catcher, Robby Hammock is 32 today. Former Royals pitching prospect Ryan Bukvich is 30.
Sadly, 3-time World Champion and Gold Glove catcher, Johny Roseboro is no longer with us. Neither is 1962 All Star Game (2) MVP Leon Wagner. Both would be celebrating birthdays today.
As mentioned earlier, today is Lyle Mouton’s birthday. The slugger really never grew into his talent at the big-league level. His career line of 22 homers, 116 RBIs, 225 hits with a .280 batting average would leave him an MVP candidate if they were posted in a single season and not over a 7-year career. He is celebrating the big 4-0 today. Hopefully some of his teammates from the 1991 LSU Tigers (who won the College World Series) give him a call. I started thinking about that team tonight and all of the talent they had. Mouton, Andy Sheets and Armando Rios, plus a pitching staff with Paul Byrd, Chad Ogea and Mike Sirotka. Wow! Oh, yeah. Mike Sirotka. Mouton’s teammate at LSU was also his teammate with the Chi Sox. They also shared a birthday. Happy 37th Birthday to Mike Sirotka and all of the amazing left (and right handed) people born today. Collective Troll out.


  1. Items can be replaced but memories last a lifetime. Great story and a great picture!

  2. Wow...just read this epic post today after the link from your auto thing. That sounds like such an awesome memory...and I'm really glad to hear that Albert Belle was a good dude. I knew it!