“A Prized Possession: Part 1”

@DimTillard pic 20

by @DimTillard

  • Growing up in Minor League clubhouses was freaking sweet!  Back then, I considered it normal, cause that’s all I knew.
  • But now that I have my own kid swirling around in the clubhouse, I know just how special it really was.
  • Looking back, probably the coolest thing about being a coach’s kid was getting to know the players.
  • Luis Gonzalez, Scott Servais, Jamie “Cat” Walker, Kary Bridges, John Halama, Richard Hidalgo, Dwayne Hosey, John Hudek, Eddie Sedar.
  • I remember in 1994, my dad was managing the Quad City River Bandits. (A-Ball for the Astros)  I’ll never forget it because during that season we got a very special player…

Every summer I had many clubhouse jobs.  Picking up stadium trash, bat boy, concession stand runner, assistant clubbie.  But my primary source of income at age 11 was shining shoes. (50 cents a shoe)  One day, while running amuck in the clubhouse, my dad mentioned we were getting a new player.  The guy was a 1st round draft pick and throws a 100 mph!

Enter Billy Wagner, future MLB pitcher.  He was polite, friendly, and awesome!  And quickly became my favorite player.  He also liked his spikes spic and span before every game. (enter shoeshine boy!)  He’d pay me $1, plus a 50 cent tip. (I think that’s like $30 in today’s money)  I always made sure his spikes were sparkling.

Wagner was having a great season (because of his polished shoes) and was chosen as a Midwest League All-Star!  Just before the All-Star Break, Wags walked into my “office” (equipment room) holding his spikes.  And in a southern draw said, “Hey, you mind polishin’ these up before I leave for the All-Star game?” (hmmm… let me check my schedule)

Sure! I blurted out.  My work, on display for the whole world?  I’ve reached the pinnacle!  I remember how painstakingly detailed I was on those spikes.  And almost took too long.  I had to hand Billy the shoes as he was quickly leaving for the Break.  (Godspeed cleats of Billy Wagner!)

Hey.  Who’s a 1st rounder and forgot to pay the shoeshine boy?  Ha, it was fine.  He was probably just excited.  Besides, Wags would tip me so much anyway, I figured that shine could be on the house.

When the Midsummer Classic was over, it was back to work.  The clubhouse was full of chatter and high five’s when I saw Wagner walk in.  He came straight up to me, “Hey lil’ Dill, got these for ya.  Thanks for the shine!

Great Scott!  Did future legendary MLB closer Billy Wagner just give me a huge stack of baseball cards from the 1994 Midwest League All-Star game?  I think he did!

Baseball cards were like gold bricks, G.I. Joes, or Warheads!  I loved collecting cards!  Trading cards, baseball cards, picture cards.  Whatever you call them, they’re a pastime and more than a hobby, and I call them special.  And, as it turns out, that stack of cards Wagner gave me WAS incredibly special!

Years later, I’d discover that that pack contained a rare and amazing card!  A baseball card that would become “The One Ring” of my collection!!  A player who would impact the game like never before!!!  Perhaps the greatest player in recent history!!!!  The one and only

cliff-hanger – noun – a melodramatic installment that ends in suspense in order to interest the reader in the next installment

“To Be Concluded…”


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