The Road to Oz

Posted: April 5, 2008 in Miscellaneous

Al and Ozzie

It is 1982, I am twelve years old, and I discover a hero.

I had already been a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan for several years. I really couldn’t help it. My dad grew up in Southeast Missouri and was a Cardinal fan from his childhood days when he first watched Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang on a barnstorming trip back to St. Louis. When I was eight years old, he took me to Busch Stadium for my first big league game. We sat in left field behind Lou Brock and watched Johnny Bench’s “Big Red Machine” clobber our precious Cardinals.

Somewhere between 1979 and 1982 I picked my first favorite player: Garry Templeton, a speedy, switch-hitting shortstop. He wore #1, which I found appropriate, and I wrote him a fan letter which he returned with an autographed picture. Too cool. Then, he had to go and flip off the crowd in St. Louis on Ladies Day and make everyone mad, so the front office decided they should trade him to San Diego.

They traded him for Ozzie Smith in 1982, another speedy, switch-hitting shortstop who wore #1. Ozzie was an amazing defensive player, but he couldn’t hit very well. Who got the best end of that trade was anyone’s guess – initially. But not for long…

Ozzie came to St. Louis, and Cardinal Nation was rewarded with a World Series championship that very year. He went on to be a hall-of-famer and a legend in the best baseball city in the world, along with the hero of every twelve-year-old Cardinal fan. Including me.

How many afternoons did I spend out in my yard wearing my Cardinals #1 jersey, throwing balls off our porch, or my well-worn pitchback, so I could dive just like Ozzie and jump up to fire a strike to Keith Hernandez, or Jack Clark, just in time to nail the runner and hear the crowd go wild?

Today, I’ll tell you that Albert Pujols is my favorite player, but my ALL-TIME favorite is Ozzie Smith without debate. Childhood heroes are always the best.

Last night, a group from church went to Mobile, Alabama, to watch a minor league game – the Baybears versus the Carolina Mudcats. My friend, Tracy, who organized the trip, told me that Ozzie Smith was supposed to be there to throw out the first pitch. (Ozzie was born in Mobile, but he moved to California as a toddler.)

My daughter, Hillary, and I went to the game together, and when we arrived we went on a search for Ozzie. I found a small cluster of Cardinal fans waiting outside the door of a little suite, and I figured I had found my spot. As a child, I had written to Ozzie and had two autographs, so I had no desire to be an autograph hound. Instead, I just wanted to meet my childhood hero.

Poor Hillary. Her daddy is supposed to act older than she is, but I stood there for thirty minutes to get a chance to have my picture made with Ozzie Smith. When I finally got my chance, I leaned over the guard rope, put my arm around my baseball hero, and my daughter snapped the picture.

I promise I’m more mature than this sounds. I’ve learned enough in life to realize that human beings are human beings, and I might not even like Ozzie Smith if I had the chance to know him as an individual.

But last night wasn’t really even about him. It was about me, tapping back into the child inside, and reconnecting with dreams from days long since past.

And it made for a good night.

  1. J D says:

    A great story! Glad you got to meet him!

  2. K. Rex Butts says:

    Hey, look at that. Great Picture!

  3. alsturgeon says:

    Thanks, Rex! Would’ve got one of you with Ozzie, but I know it would have been against your religion to be that close to a Redbird! 🙂

  4. Seth Simmons says:

    that is so amazing! unfortunately I haven’t ever gotten to meet a Cardinal of any era other than a lot of their minor leaguers. I was always an Andy Van Slyke fan myself. Such a great feeling to meet folks that you consider legends!

  5. alsturgeon says:

    Andy Van Slyke almost hit me with a baseball once. But I’ve long since forgiven him for that. 🙂

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