Meeting Mr. Baseball

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billysparrow
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Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by billysparrow » January 5th, 2020, 11:51 pm

This one goes back almost a full year, but Greg suggested putting up a report anyway, so why not? I'm also not super-keen on posting photos of me on the web, but decided I was 100% OK with this one being out there. One of my all-time favorite meets. And a long tale (actually cut down from a waaaaay long blog post on the whole trip). But here goes...

When I was a kid, there was nothing better than those weekend afternoons when “Bob Uecker’s Wacky World of Sports” came on. There seemed to be no set schedule, so every airing was like a gift you had no idea was coming. There didn’t seem to be a wide variety of episodes available for broadcast, so I felt like I mainly saw the same episode a half-dozen times, but in those glorious, innocent, pre-YouTube days, if you wanted to see funny sports bloopers, you either hoped you guessed right on the day the local newscast did its end-of-the-month clips or you watched the “Wacky World of Sports.” (And if you were lucky enough, you found VHS copies at bargain prices in the Jamesways and Ameses of America, and just watched them over and over...I have four.)

Thus, as the titular host, Bob Uecker was something akin to a god. A god who would randomly show up on your weekends, make you laugh real hard, show you a clip of a guy being hit in the stomach with a cannonball, and then be on his way. And he was funny in those Miller Lite ads that didn’t really make any sense to you. And on “Mr. Belvedere.” And, later, in “Major League.” He was the best.

And when it came time to do a book report in seventh grade, there was the obvious choice: Bob Uecker’s Catcher in the Wry. I can’t be sure that I even understood the pun at that point, but I can tell you that while J.D. Salinger’s just fine, he’s nothing compared to Bob Uecker. Not surprisingly, I loved his book, and I assume I conveyed as much in that book report.

Though I sure do hang on to a lot of things, I somehow let my copy of Catcher in the Wry slip away. I spent many years searching for a copy in used bookstores all across the country but it wasn't until October 2018, at the Friends of the Library Book Sale in Ithaca, NY, that I found it sitting atop a box of books, just waiting for me. Fifty cents.

This, I decided, was a sign.

I knew that Uecker generally appeared at the Milwaukee Brewers On Deck fanfest. But that’s at the end of January, which is maybe not the best time to fly to Milwaukee, and they don’t officially announce the guests until a few weeks before. And for at least some of the years, there was a lottery to get Uecker’s autograph, so there was no guarantee I would even get the chance to get it. So, it was all a big crap shoot.

But then there was that book just sitting there. And, all of a sudden, Milwaukee in January seemed like the perfect idea.

And so it began.

The only non-Uecker activity on my schedule for On Deck was a signing by some of the Brewers alumni, and after that line was not moving very fast, I asked someone to hold my spot so I could get some intel on the Uecker signing, which wasn’t due to start for another two-and-a-half hours. So I asked the guy what the deal was, and he said they wouldn’t start handing out the tickets until 90 minutes before the signing, but people would probably line up before then, so I should get there early (autographs for most of the big names--like Uecker and Christian Yelich--were $25, but you needed to get a ticket first, and then you would pay when you get to the front of the line).

After the alumni (Larry Hisle, Jim Gantner, Cecil Cooper, Don August and Gorman Thomas...$25 for all five...a steal!) signing ended, I headed over to the Uecker stage and there was already a pretty big line (signing was still about two hours away). So I panicked a little but then calmed down a bit when I did a quick estimate and realized there were definitely less than 250 people in line, which was the cutoff. And then the panic re-emerged when I started doing math in my head and realized there was only 45 minutes allotted for the signing. So, at 250 people, that meant about 10 seconds for each person (i'm definitely not the type of person to drone on when I know other people are waiting...or just not the type of person to drone on--the length of this account notwithstanding). Did I come to Milwaukee in January for 10 seconds with Bob Uecker? Was this wise?

As I tried not to provide the logical answer to that question, my phone buzzed. Ooh, who’s texting me? Oh, Southwest. Oh, my flight home the next day is cancelled and I should rebook. Oh, all the logical rebookings are sold out. But I could fly to Denver and get a connecting flight to LaGuardia from there. Oh.

Well, that’s not good.

To be fair, I knew a blizzard was coming, so this thought of flight cancellation was already in my head. But I also knew that the blizzard was the least of the local weather problems, because after it rolled out some time Monday, the real cold weather was going to roll in, culminating in a midweek low of -20. Pre-wind chill. And as much as I love Milwaukee and the cold, staying a few extra days did not seem like a fun idea. So getting home Monday would be super. And not having to get there through Denver would also be ideal.

Long story short (really?), I booked a flight to Baltimore Monday afternoon, and I could get a connecting flight to Islip, NY (yes, they do have an airport!) from there. So, one panic down and now back to panicking about 10 Seconds with Uecker.

So, I got number 99. That was good. I was feeling a little better about the cancelled flight thing and the meeting Uecker thing. Then, we started getting past the time Uecker was supposed to get to the stage and nothing was happening. Did this mean they would have to cut the signing short when he did finally get there? Or would they just plow through people in significantly less than 10 seconds to get as many people satisfied as possible? Things were taking a turn.

Finally, Uecker showed up and the line started moving. While they weren’t rushing people through, it did become apparent that (a) he was only signing the provided 8X10 and (b) they were technically letting you take pictures, but there was someone standing between you and Uecker, so your photograph would be you, some random person, and Uecker, who may or may not look up for the picture. But, on the positive side, Uecker was talking to people and not just shooing you away. So, at the very least, I thought, I’d be able to tell him about the seventh-grade book report, we’d have a little moment, and then I’d go hunker down at the Super 8 by the airport.

But by the time the line snaked around to where we could now see Uecker signing, things had changed. Namely, the person who was standing next to Uecker had moved and there was a clear shot at a photo. And Uecker was looking up for the photo while still being chatty with everyone. No movement on the signing outside things front, but this was still an improvement. So I prepared my quick Catcher in the Wry speech, and the woman behind me said she’d take my photo when we got up to the stage.

Finally, the moment arrived (and by the time stamp on my phone, one minute before the signing had been scheduled to end; it kept going well past the allotted time). I held on to my book and stepped up to meet one of my heroes.

“Mr. Uecker, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I just wanted to let you know that I wrote a book report on this when I was in the seventh grade…”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“No, no, no. I loved it! It was one of my favorite books. I still like it a lot better than the other book with that title.”

And then, magic happened. Bob Uecker, in the perfect Bob Uecker tone, said exactly what I would want Bob Uecker to say in that situation.

“That guy sucked.”

And then he asked what the guy’s name was and I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me (there were other people around) and I was too happy to say anything anyway, but then Brewers owner Mark Attansio said “J.D. Salinger” and I think they started joking about it and I don’t know what all happened because “That guy sucked” was still dancing around my head and “Wacky World of Sports” and George Owens and Harry Doyle and who cares that I’m stuck in Milwaukee.

The woman behind me did as she promised and pretty much documented every second of the encounter because I have about 25 pictures of me standing next to Bob Uecker like a goon with my book in my hand and waiting for him to stop joking with the Brewers owner so I can get the picture and not hold up the line and the other 100+ people can get through. Finally, when he handed me the signed photo, I asked him for a picture and he said, “Sure” and 30 years rolled off my face in a second.

Image
Image
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Magic.

The trip home was not smooth, but all that stress and extra traveling was 100% worth it. Would've liked to get the book signed, and might have been able to get him to sign when he was walking around after the official signing was done, but just meeting him and "That guy sucked" was plenty for me.


adelta13

Re: Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by adelta13 » January 6th, 2020, 12:09 am

Great photo! I’ve been going for baseball for over 9 years. I’ve been in front of Bob numerous of times for an attempt of getting a photo with him. To this day, I’ve never been successful at getting one. So I applaud you for getting it because he is not easy by any means!

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Re: Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by lanza218 » January 6th, 2020, 12:31 am

Dude. This is an amazing story. Thanks for posting and sharing. Wow. Awesome

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Re: Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by Greg2600 » January 6th, 2020, 2:34 pm

Wow, finally somebody did a report I asked for! Boy, you're worse than me with airline troubles. Uecker I would die for, either on the Major League or the autobiography, which I always have owned since I was a kid! Dumb that they wouldn't let him sign that. Going way out there essentially for Bob, not totally guaranteed, and the weather, GAHHHHH. I think I would have had a stroke from the stress.
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Re: Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by billysparrow » January 6th, 2020, 10:57 pm

adelta13 wrote:
January 6th, 2020, 12:09 am
Great photo! I’ve been going for baseball for over 9 years. I’ve been in front of Bob numerous of times for an attempt of getting a photo with him. To this day, I’ve never been successful at getting one. So I applaud you for getting it because he is not easy by any means!
Thanks! I'd heard from some people that he can be a little difficult, so I was a little nervous about it. But it all worked out. Definitely one of my pop culture heroes, and I'm glad he didn't disappoint.
lanza218 wrote:
January 6th, 2020, 12:31 am
Dude. This is an amazing story. Thanks for posting and sharing. Wow. Awesome
Thanks for reading! Amazing time for sure.
Greg2600 wrote:
January 6th, 2020, 2:34 pm
Wow, finally somebody did a report I asked for! Boy, you're worse than me with airline troubles. Uecker I would die for, either on the Major League or the autobiography, which I always have owned since I was a kid! Dumb that they wouldn't let him sign that. Going way out there essentially for Bob, not totally guaranteed, and the weather, GAHHHHH. I think I would have had a stroke from the stress.
Yeah, it was definitely leaving a lot to chance. But I do love the city of Milwaukee. And I figured there wouldn't be many more shots at meeting Uecker. I also got to bowl at the Holler House, home of the oldest sanctioned lanes in the U.S. (1905), so two bucket-list items accomplished in one (very cold) trip. Could've done without the flight cancellation and scrambling, but no regrets.


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AJLe
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Re: Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by AJLe » January 6th, 2020, 11:36 pm

Amazing. Congrats on a great meet.

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Re: Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by dlaney409 » January 7th, 2020, 1:00 am

Congrats! Great success and worth all the travel stress!

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Jason1980s
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Re: Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by Jason1980s » January 7th, 2020, 4:35 pm

What a great report!
I know Bob can be tough which really conflicts with his celebrity persona but it's really good to know he was as cool as he was at this show.
Your personal experience was amazing but it's also a memory that you created for him and the Brewers owner that led to his conversation. Of all the people in line, how many could say the same thing? I'm guess no one else. When you're able to create a conversation with the celebrity and another celebrity or their friend it really is a cool feeling.
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16times
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Re: Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by 16times » January 7th, 2020, 8:15 pm

I enjoyed every bit of this report.

IMO, experiences like this are why we love the hobby.
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Re: Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by Travis » January 13th, 2020, 9:58 pm

Awesome report and so very well-written. Loved it!

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Re: Meeting Mr. Baseball

Post by ICW » January 14th, 2020, 10:41 am

What a fantastic, fun read. Great stuff, man! Thanks for sharing.
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