July 12, 2011
I've been to so many games in the last three or four seasons that I don't exactly remember when I actually caught my first ball. I had to be in middle school, definitely around seventh grade, but I could be mistaken. Nothing in my memory helps me to distinguish between a 2004 game from a 2005 or 2006 game. I have a bunch of tickets saved from over the years, but none of them tip me off in the ballhawking department.
It is possible, therefore, that my first ever ball was the longest toss-up in history. That's right, it beats that video that Zack Hample uploaded a month or so ago of Kyle Drabek and other Blue Jays pitchers attempting to hook him up with a ball in his hotel room. It also beats that one time I had to run all the way to the third deck of Camden Yards to retrieve a ball that Nationals' pitcher Drew Storen wanted us to "work for."
Let me take you back to December of 2004. I was in fifth grade, preparing for Christmas vacation, and the Boston Red Sox had completed their miraculous postseason run a month and a half earlier, shocking the Yankees and sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. The Orioles had finished third in the AL East with a 78-84 record, their best record in the new millennium, and the first time since 1997 that they finished anything but 4th.
The spike in record was a direct cause from owner Peter Angelos' uncharacteristically generous offseason. Angelos, known for being stingy with free agents and the ball club, signed former MVP Miguel Tejada to play shortstop, former Atlanta Braves' slugging catcher Javy Lopez, and brought back left-handed bopper Rafael Palmeiro.
All three acquisitions had great years. Both Tejada and Lopez hit over .300, Palmeiro combined 29 doubles with 23 homeruns, and Tejada lead the world with 150 RBIs.
There was now a reason to pay attention to the Orioles in the offseason.
As a young fan, I decided that Peter Angelos and everyone in power with the Orioles needed to know my opinion on who to sign in the offseason to ensure a run at the playoffs.
I sat down one day after school, a pen and sheets of paper handy, and carefully hand-wrote a letter to Mr. Angelos. I used my best cursive, because, after all, my teachers always said we'd use it all our lives. How unprofessional would it be if I wrote in print? They wouldn't take my suggestions seriously! They wouldn't even read it!
I didn't save a copy of what I wrote; I wish I had, but I do recall some of the things I said.
I began by mentioning my age (it was my attention grabber), and then outlined my loyalty to the team (attention grabber number two). I then began to rattle-off names of free agents, telling Mr. Angelos which ones he should go after.
Even I knew that the Orioles needed serious help in the rotation; the trio of Sidney Ponson, Rodrigo Lopez, and Daniel Cabrera just wasn't cutting it. I told them that signing either Pedro Martinez or Carl Pavano was a good idea.
I also mentioned bringing back second baseman Roberto Alomar. I was enamored with the stories of the Orioles from the late-90's. Bringing back a player from those years had to recreate the memories, right? Get those current second base scrubs Brian Roberts and Jerry Hairston outta here! What probably was my main focus in the letter was re-signing outfielder B.J. Surhoff. I admitted his shortcomings at the plate, but stressed his clubhouse presence. What did I know about clubhouse presence? All I knew was that B.J. seemed to be a guy who had a good one, and that every good team needed that. Looking back, B.J. was actually a great role player in the season prior, playing in 100 games and hitting .309.
I put the finishing touches on my letter, grabbed my nearest phone book, and searched for the address to Peter Angelos' main law firm. I was smart. For one, I knew Ole Pete was a lawyer. Secondly, I knew that he didn't spend his spare time at Camden Yards. Forget sending it to the stadium. How many people are actually going to send a letter to his law office?
I used what I was taught that year in school about how to label an envelope for a business letter, got my mom to hook me up with a stamp, and placed it in my mailbox, expecting some kind of response soon.
A few weeks later, a large yellow parcel envelope came in the mail, addressed to me; inside: two items.
One was a smaller, letter-style envelope addressed to Jimmy Anderson (honest mistake by whoever made that label. When I wrote in cursive, my capital T's looked like J's. Oddly, that was the only thing that said "Jimmy." Everything else said Timmy).
The letter read as follows:
Thank you for your nice letter and for being such a big Orioles fan. As I am sure you have heard by now Pedro Martinez has signed with the Mets and Carl Pavano is with the Yankees. The three Orioles that you mentioned are still with the Club. B.J. Surhoff has recently re-signed for the 2005 season and either Brian Roberts or Jerry Hairston will be our Opening Day starter at second base.
I have enclosed an autographed B.J. Surhoff baseball for you. I hope you and your family have a very Happy Holiday season.
Vice President/Special Liaison to The Chairman
Item number two? That's right, the B.J. Surhoff autographed baseball.
Here's how I like to think the process went down:
Somebody in the Orioles organization read my letter and agreed that B.J. was needed in the clubhouse. They sat him down to sign him with a contract, a baseball, and pen sitting there on the desk, shared my letter with him, and asked him to sign a ball for me.
That's an autographed toss-up from B.J. Surhoff, assisted by Lou Kousouris and a mailman, thrown from over eight miles across district lines, and caught by my mailbox.
Tim Anderson is a contributing columnist to myGameBalls.com and also maintains a Blog.