My favorite professional baseball player of all time was an infielder in the New York Yankees farm system who never played regularly for any team he was assigned to. In four years as a pro, he never hit a home run. Not even one.
|Andres Rodriguez gave an unexpected|
autograph to Andy Young before a
Florida State League baseball game in
1992. SUBMITTED PHOTO
I was doing radio play-by-play for the Vero Beach Dodgers of the Florida State League that season, and during batting practice prior to most of our 17 games with the Fort Lauderdale Yankees, I’d exchange pleasantries with Rodriguez, a friendly, outgoing Dominican who seemed even more eager to learn English than I was to improve my pidgin Spanish.
I’m not sure how we first met; it might have had something to do with the fact that, from my perspective, Rodriguez’s body was more similar to mine than any other professional athlete I’d ever encountered. He was generously listed at 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds, although my guess was that he’d probably been wearing a pair of 10-pound ankle weights when he stepped on the scale.
For me the second game of a July 17 doubleheader was just another of the 135 Dodger contests I’d broadcast that summer, until the bottom of the second inning. That’s when, with one out, Yankee center fielder Jovino Carvajal lifted a high foul ball behind home plate that was headed … straight for me!
Anyone familiar with baseball knows foul balls hit back toward the press box are potentially lethal; one look at the wall behind my head in the Fort Lauderdale Stadium visiting radio booth, which featured several baseball-sized holes in it, would confirm that. But this particular foul ball was, as it approached, actually coming down from the top of an exceptionally gentle parabola. I was wearing a headset at the time, so I reached out and caught the ball, two-handed, on the fly. It was just like picking an apple off a tree; there wasn’t even a hint of a sting in either hand.
But how to preserve that magic moment in time? Then it hit me: I’d get the actual ball autographed by the pitcher who’d thrown it and the batter who’d hit it. The first part was easy: Dodger pitcher Jason Brosnan happily signed it for me on the team bus after the game. But getting to Carvajal was going to be a challenge. Not only did I not know him, but his grasp of English was even more limited than mine was of Spanish.
That’s where my slender hero came in. Before the next night’s game, I sought Rodriguez out and explained, in my best halting Spanish, what I wanted: Jovino Carvajal’s signature on the ball he had hit, Brosnan had thrown and I had caught.
Andres smiled, indicating that he’d caught most of my meaning, and led me to Carvajal who, after exchanging some rapid Spanish sentences with his teammate, agreeably put his signature on the ball. I had my treasured, one-of-a-kind trophy.
But then came something I hadn’t anticipated. “You want me to sign too, yes?” Rodriguez shyly asked.
There was only one appropriate response, which was: “As I matter of fact, yes Andres, I do!”
Even when I worked in baseball, I recognized autographed baseballs for what they are: spherical dust collectors that require a glass or plastic case in order for them to retain their perceived value. I never understood why anyone would want such a silly item.
Until the very moment that I asked for one myself. <