Baseball Ink

Baseball The Way It Was Meant To Be

Next Time I'll Be Ready

by Tom Tilert

Recently I took on a new position with a company that has its headquarters in Melbourne, Florida. Since my boss is in Florida and I live in Maryland, I travel to the Sunshine State about once a month.

Last month on my return from my regularly scheduled trip to the home office, I was waiting to board a plane in the Melbourne International Airport. I see a very large man nod at the ticket taker and board the plane.

Wait a second, I say...that's someone famous. A sports figure....

Hey, I know I know that guy!, I wouldn't recognize a lineman.

Basketball? Nah, too wide a body.

Baseball—yeah, that's...that's...that's Cecil Fielder. The guy who went to Japan after five mediocre major league seasons to hone up on his baseball skills. The guy who returned to the States after a couple of years and signed with the only team that would have him—the Detroit Tigers. And then in his first season back became the first guy to hit 50 dingers in about 20 years. He led the league in taters and ribbies a time or two and became one of the most feared power hitters of the '90's.

So, now what do I do? Yeah, I am a sports fan and especially a fan of baseball. I am in the midst of greatness. I want to yell at him. I want to ask him for his autograph. I want to sit down and talk baseball with him. I know—I'll tell him I am a writer of some renown for quarterly magazine called "Baseball Ink." No, that would only turn him off. I want to ask him how many homers he'd be hitting now that the ball is juiced and everyone seems to be able to hit 50 (or 60 or 70). I want to ask him a bazillion questions....

I also want to be a "cool" baseball fan. Not like the others. I want to show him that not only do I know who he is, but I respect him and his privacy.

I want to leave him alone.

No, I don't—I want to talk with someone who REALLY knows baseball. He's been a STAR in THE SHOW! The closest I got to greatness previously was when I saw Lou Brock outside the Homer-Dome in Minneapolis at the '87 World Series. All I could muster then was a "Hi, Lou."

"Hi, Lou"??? From the biggest Cardinal fan outside the state of Missouri? What the hell is wrong with me? What the hell was I thinking?

So, what do I do? I'm in a dilemma. I'm in a dilemma in an enigma in a puzzle in a Rubik's cube. My eight-year-old inner-self is screaming at me like the proverbial angel on my shoulder. My 43-year-old outer-self is trying to calm me down like the proverbial devil on my other shoulder.

I board the plane—me a coach-rider and weary business traveler. I know Cecil is in first-class—the way I know George Washington was the first president. As I walk through the first-class cabin I look for him, find him and hope he looks at me, so I can....

WHAT? So, I can WHAT? Prove to him then and there that I am a baseball fan??? Talk about his philosophy of hitting? Ask him what it was like to hit off Nolan Ryan? WHAT? WHAT CAN I DO IN THE SPLIT SECOND THAT HE AND I MAKE EYE CONTACT????

He's looking pensively out the window. He doesn't look up. My "problem" is solved.

I walk by—saying and doing nothing. I tell myself that I did the right thing by leaving him alone. I go to my seat and sit there. I don't pull out the six-month-old airline monthly. I don't read USA Today. I don't read the latest best-selling novel. I don't listen to my CDs. I don't even eat my peanuts.

I think.

I think of what I should have said, should have done; what I should say and do the next time I brush against greatness....

I still don't know precisely what that is...but at that time, THE NEXT TIME...I'll be ready!