It was a Christmas present given to me sometime in the late 80’s.
A puzzle of my favorite baseball player. In my mind, no one could compete with The Wizard, Ozzie Smith. His amazing plays at shortstop and impressive back flips as he took the field before each game are no doubt some of the reasons I grew up a Cardinals fan.
This puzzle was really cool. It even had a special extra large puzzle piece that you could mail in and get autographed by Ozzie himself. It’s been too long now to remember why I never sent that puzzle piece in for the autograph. Instead, I put the puzzle together, stuck it in a frame and that was that. I’m sure I proudly hung it in my bedroom for a few years, then replaced it with posters of Pearl Jam and other bands as I got older, but I always kept that puzzle in its frame.
It pretty much just stayed in my mom’s attic after that, until a few years ago when my son was born. My wife and I decided since I had all this Cardinals memorabilia that we could basically decorate his entire room for free. I liked her thinking for two reasons: 1. free=good 2. It would be fun to dust off some of my old baseball stuff.
One of the things we decided to use was the puzzle. It looked great hanging on his wall, but it still had the big blank space where the autograph was supposed to go. Bummer, but oh well. How was I going to get Ozzie Smith’s autograph now to complete the puzzle?
I thought I was out of luck. Until the day I received an email form the Indianapolis Indians saying Ozzie Smith would be at an upcoming game signing autographs!
I was excited with the chance to meet my boyhood hero, but nervous too. I’d always heard, you never want to meet people you look up to, you will be disappointed. Oh well, it was worth a shot. If I was ever going to get this puzzle piece signed, now was my chance.
My son and I headed downtown with puzzle piece in hand. He was pretty excited to meet “Rozzie Smith.” We drove by the ballpark at 4:30 on our way to find parking. We planned to get something to eat then get in line, but there was already a line forming so we skipped eating and got in line. At 5:30 the gates were opened and we were in the ballpark.
We waited in new line at 5:30. Autographs started at 6. Beer and soda vendors were walking by but we were purposely dehydrating ourselves so we wouldn’t need to get out of line for the bathroom (classic parenting trick).
At 6 pm the autographs started, and we weren’t that far from the front, but things were taking forever. In the first 20 minutes we moved maybe 10 feet. The line that snaked it’s way back and forth in the outfield wasn’t moving. I could tell, at this pace, a majority of these people waiting in line were going home empty handed. I wasn’t sure we were going to make it within the two hour time limit. After an hour we were closer, but still waiting. I’d picked up my son to hold him so many times that my arms, neck, feet and legs were sore. I was hungry and thirsty and so was my son. I’m not going to lie, there were a few times while we were standing there that I thought about bailing out on the whole thing. But, as we got closer I saw why it took so long to get to the front.
Ozzie was taking his time with EVERY person that came to see him. He was talking to them, laughing with them, and really appeared to be enjoying interacting with his fans. He especially loved talking with the kids that were there. One kid asked him to sign a batting helmet and he put it on pretending like he was hitting. Another little boy asked him to sign a box of Wheaties and Ozzie joked that he was going to eat all the cereal in the box.
Finally, after about three hours total of waiting, it was our turn. My son walked up to Ozzie and asked him to sign the 25-year-old puzzle piece. Ozzie joked that maybe after all this time we should actually put the puzzle together. After a little more small talk, a thank you and a handshake it was all over.
The puzzle piece was signed. Mission accomplished!
Next, we were off to the concession stand where I was willing to buy my son just about anything he wanted for being so patient and well behaved during the whole ordeal. He’s pretty easy to please; all he ordered was a bucket of popcorn and a Gatorade. It was all he needed to be happy.
I was happy too. To see the ballplayer I once looked up to as a kid, wasn’t some famous jerk, just signing autographs because he had to, but he genuinely seemed like a really nice guy. He was having a good time and so were we.
A good time this dad and his son will never forget.