- I was just a tot when I decided I wanted to be a catcher just like… Yogi Berra.
- Why catcher? While searching for a position, I found that outfield didn’t appeal to me. (pop-fly’s were hard) And infield just seemed too dangerous. And I for sure didn’t want to be the stupid pitcher. Only one position could satisfy. (and, allow me to wear protective gear)
- Why Yogi? He was the epitome of a catcher. Not only was there a particularly enjoyable cartoon named after him, but he’s also in Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
- During his near 20 year MLB career he was a great hitter and defenseman. Many people forget that. Most remember his famous quotes or his impressive list of teammates. DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, Spahn, Ford, Larson, Rizzuto. (“They look like R’s to me.“)
- Yogi Berra was my hero…he was like the George Lucas of Baseball. (before The Phantom Menace obviously)
It was 1989… and my dad was coaching in the Houston Astros organization. During spring training I had compiled a slew of autographs. Players like Biggio, Servis, Kile, Lofton, Gonzalez, Bass, Hatcher, Simms. Other teams would come to Kissimmee Florida to play the Astros, and I’d snatch their autographs too. Over the years my stash of memorabilia was thriving. Cards, balls, bats, gloves, giveaways.
While sneaking around an empty locker room one day, I spotted a jersey with the name “Berra” on the back. “Oh Mylanta!” Quickly, I went looking for Pops to seek confirmation. Could it really be Yogi, or was it just some bad joke guy with the same last name? Good news was it was him! Bad news was it was his last day. He was a Big League coach, and Big League camp was over. What? When? Huh? How? How… how did I not know he was there? No matter now. I needed a plan, and fast.
First, I bribed an unnamed clubbie. That lead to my possession of a Major League baseball! Next, I stole a sharpie from Art Howe’s locker. A bushy mustached trainer told me where I could find the team bus to the airport. Everything was falling into place, as I sprinted across the impressive sports complex. Upon finding the bus, I noticed people were already boarding. “Is Yogi on your bus?” I yelled up at the driver. The words “Not yet.” echoed down the steps and into my heart.
Player after player walked by me and climbed onto the bus. Biggio? I already have your autograph, beat it. Mike Scott? Nice hair, don’t need ya. Ken Caminiti? Cool British Knights, keep walking. Each one would look down and smile at me, probably knowing who I was waiting for with just a ball and a pen in my hand. The bus was nearly full when suddenly…
A smaller man, with a bag in one hand, and a small briefcase in the other, was sauntering towards me. Yogi! It’s Yogi! In an intimidated and respectful tone I mustered up, “MMMr. Berra. Will you sign my ball?” He calmly stopped, and grinned that famous grin. “Sure thing kid! Let me just put my bags on the bus.”
To this day, I’ll never forget how I felt when he got on that bus, the doors closed, and it drove away. And me, standing there, with an unsigned baseball, surrounded by a cloud of exhaust. (No hard feelings)
It was 1989… when I decided I wanted to be a catcher just like… Carlton Fisk.