From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

Meeting My Favorite Player

My love of baseball and my devotion to the Chicago White Sox began with my grandpa and play-by-play radio broadcasts. Although I was too young to understand the game, I would sit on the floor in front of the huge radio that provided most of the family’s entertainment in the 1940s and listen to the sounds of baseball. Bats cracking against balls, the roar of the crowd and the voice of Bob Elson describing the action became an integral part of my childhood.

Sometime in 1947, my father brought home a miracle. It was called television. Now the sounds of baseball took a back seat to sights like the pitcher winding up for the throw, the base runner stealing third and the ball sailing over the outfield fence for a home run.

As I grew into a teenager, I became more and more entranced with America’s favorite pastime. I knew every player on the White Sox team, the positions they played and their batting averages.

Although the White Sox hadn’t won a pennant since the infamous scandal of 1919, we knew that someday our faith in our team would be rewarded.

It was in the late 1950s that our hopes of bringing another league championship to White Sox park were really soaring. It was a scrappy hit-and-run team with future Hall of Fame players like Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio.

We went to as many home games as possible. Ladies Day at Comiskey Park meant ditching school or work to sit in the grandstands screaming for a hit. When the game was over we hurried around to the players’ parking lot to get autographs from our favorite players.

The one I most wanted to meet was an outfielder named Al Smith. He was an excellent outfielder, often making unbelievable catches, and at the plate his batting power drove in run after run for the team.

Our trips to the players’ lot became a ritual. We got to talk to a lot of the players. Our autograph books were filled with signatures, but the page I had reserved for Al Smith remained empty.

I would call out to the other players, “Tell Al Smith to come out here. Tell him his biggest fan wants to meet him.”

They all promised they would give Al the message, but he never appeared.

In 1959, the White Sox finally did it. They won the American League pennant. The city went crazy. Air raid sirens blared, fireworks filled Chicago skies and victory parties broke out everywhere. We were so happy, we were literally dancing in the streets.

Everyone wanted an official team photograph, but they were not easy to come by, and I was not able to get one.

The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Sox in the World Series and, before the next season began, many of the players on the championship team were traded away. I felt like it was the end of an era.

I married and began to raise a family so trips to the ball park became infrequent, but I still watched the games on television. Eventually, my husband and I moved our family to Tucson, Arizona. The Chicago White Sox were still my team, but I was no longer able to see them play and had to content myself with the statistics in news broadcasts.

The years passed quickly. With four kids and a full-time job, the only baseball I seemed to have time for anymore were my son’s Little League games.

In 1978, I got a real estate license and since my business background was in public accounting, I began working with real estate investors. A few years later, one of my accounting clients, a major real estate firm, offered me a job. I went to their office to talk to the broker, who began telling me about some of the other agents that worked for him.

“Arthur A she’s aunt works for us. And she’s brought us another new agent, Millie Smith. Millie’s husband used to be a ballplayer with the Chicago White Sox.”

I literally jumped out of my chair. “Al Smith?” I screamed.

“Yes, I think so,” he replied carefully.

I could see that he was rather startled by my reaction, but I was too excited to care. “Where is she?” I demanded. “I have to meet her. Al Smith is my all-time favorite player.”

“Does that mean you’ll take the job?”

I nodded absently as I continued to babble. “Al Smith, how great. He was a fabulous outfielder and what a hitter, always came through in a clutch. I can’t believe this.”

I had come a long way since my days at Comiskey Park, yet I was suddenly back to a time when a line drive over the center-field fence brought me to my feet shouting for joy.

Millie Smith turned out to be a charming lady and we worked a few real estate deals together. But meeting Al Smith was the best, a dream come true.

My initial introduction to Al took place in the real estate parking lot. When Millie called him and said one of his biggest fans was in the office and wanted to meet him, he got in his car and drove right over. He was delighted to find someone in Tucson who remembered him, and we became fast friends.

In the months that followed, I was able to spend time with Al, talking about baseball, the White Sox and his career.

When I told him I always wanted his autograph, Al gave it to me on the official photo taken of the championship team. He even provided one for my sister.

Today the team photo with Al Smith’s autograph is framed and hanging in a special place in my home. Al and Millie Smith moved back to Chicago to be closer to their children and we lost touch, but every time I pass the photo of the 1959 American League champions, it brings a smile to my face.

It took me more than twenty years to meet my favorite White Sox player, but it was worth the wait. I’ll never forget the thrill of meeting him, and I’ll always be grateful for the twists of fate that caused our paths to cross.

It’s been forty years since they won their last championship, but someday it will happen. When it does, a grandmother in Tucson, Arizona, will be on her feet shouting for joy.

Carol Costa

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