He came up to me after I’d spoken to a group of retired men in a town not far from Boston.
“I got a story for you,” he said.
“Great,” I thought. “Great.”He was going to tell me this story because in the course of speaking to the retired men, I had mentioned the Brooklyn Dodgers, who featured, among others, Jackie Robinson, and a pitcher named Preacher Roe, who eventually acknowledged that his out pitch was the spitball, but not until after he’d retired. All of which I mention so you’ll be as prepared for this guy’s story as I was.
“It was 1947,” the guy said. “I was 11. Jackie Robinson had just come up with the Dodgers, and I thought I’d go see him play at Braves Field in Boston, maybe get his autograph.”
“Okay,” I thought. “Jackie Robinson.”
“So, I missed him coming out of the ballpark, and when I got down to the bus that would take the Dodgers back to the hotel, he was already on it. But I tapped on his window and held up my piece of paper, so he’d know what I wanted.”
“Then Preacher Roe came along and pushed by me to get on the bus, and he hip-checked me right on my ass. And Jackie Robinson must have seen what happened, because got up from his seat, climbed off the bus, and came right over and helped me up. He asked me if I was all right, and then he gave me his autograph.”“All right,” I thought, nodding. “Nice Jackie Robinson story, nice story about a determined and resilient kid who got what he wanted. A nice day for this old guy to remember. And now he’s going to tell me he still has that autograph, right here in his wallet.”
But that’s not how the story ended, at least this time, 66 years after it happened, because the guy was still standing there, still talking.
“So, Jackie Robinson gets back on the bus, but it looks like it’s a few minutes before they’ll get going. So I walk alongside the bus until I get to where Preacher Roe is looking out one of the windows. And I tap on that window, and I hold my piece of paper up again, and when he pulls down the window, I spit on him. And then I run like the devil.”
That last bit was what I liked about the story. That 77-year-old guy remembering with a grin how once he could run.