From Chicken Soup for the Baseball Fan's Soul

The Day I Met
The Splendid Splinter

My autographed Ted Williams baseball sat in my sock drawer for more than twenty years. It’s not that I didn’t want to display it. It was more like I was afraid someone might steal it or unwittingly throw it out as insignificant clutter. So I was quite unprepared for the day I opened my drawer and discovered that the prized possession had been defaced! There, in bright, bold indelible ink, my three adorable daughters, ages ten, eight and five respectively, had left their collective mark: “Carl Yastremskee Rules,” “Your Pal Looe Tiant,” “Babe Ruth Was Here,” and other random scribbles.

It felt like someone had just pierced my heart. I was furious. If ever there were justification for punishment, surely defacing an autographed Ted Williams ball would qualify— especially with The Curse of the Bambino! As I tried to control my temper, I called for my daughters, and thought back to the day I met Teddy Ballgame. . . .

I was just twelve years old in 1948, but remember the event like it was yesterday. My mother had just come home from the beauty parlor. She told me that Ted Williams’s wife, Doris, had her hair done at the same salon. And miracle of miracles, she told my mother their home address. “He lives at Luceile Place,” my mother casually mentioned, as if it was no big deal. How many kids in the world were lucky enough to have the greatest hitter of all time living less than two miles away!

Ted Williams was my idol. I followed his appearance in every game and could quote his daily batting averages and RBIs. I got into heated arguments with anyone who tried to tell me there was a better player, and even got into one playground fight with a kid who said that Johnny Mize was better. (In 1941, Ted Williams led the American League with a .400 batting average. He was given the chance to sit out the last two games of the season to preserve a mark that had not been equaled in over a decade. Of course, he refused, and in those games went six for eight at-bats, finishing the season for a .406 average. Even today, if it had not been for his call to duty in both World War II and Korea, I doubt that anyone could have eclipsed his record.)

In order to meet Mr. Williams, my timing had to be perfect. I had to make sure that the Red Sox team was in town and that he was home. So I chose a Saturday morning, grabbed a clean baseball and rode my J. C. Higgens bike uphill almost all the way. I told no other kids what I was doing. I knew that Mr. Williams could be difficult with the press and his critics, but I also knew that he liked kids. I hoped he wouldn’t mind the intrusion.

I parked my bike outside of his house, baseball in hand. As I stood at his front door and rang the bell, my knees were knocking. What would I say? Looking down, practicing my speech, I saw the door open. I looked up, up, up, and there he was, standing there, a giant of a man, smiling at me, a strange kid with a baseball in hand.

“P-p-pardon me, sir. I was wondering if you could sign my baseball for me?” I stammered.

“Sure,” he said. “Come on in!”

“Come on in!” He said, “Come on in!” I was in Ted Williams’s hallway!

“Would you like a Coke?” he asked.

“No. No, thank you, sir,” I managed to say. I was still in shock.

“How do you like the baby?” he asked, pointing to the adjacent baby carriage.

“Oh, he’s alright I guess,” I blurted out. (I later learned the “he” was, in fact, a “she.”)

Mr. Williams laughed at my lack of gender sensitivity and signed my baseball. Then he walked me to the door and wished me good luck.

“Th-thank you, Mr. Williams,” I said, still in shock.

The bike ride home that day was magical. When I reached my house I ran in to tell my parents about my adventure. They were hardly amused. Face red and arms waving, my father warned: “Don’t you ever tell anyone what you did today, or they’ll never give him any privacy. Do you understand me?”

“Yes sir,” I said. And I kept my promise.

My mind returned to the present as I looked down at the now-colorful baseball in my hands, and up at the sheepish faces of my three artisan-daughters who stood before me. I realized that to them, Ted Williams was an unknown. In fact, the whole mystique of baseball was void in their world of Barbie dolls and fingernail polish.

I realized then that my girls needed a lesson about baseball: the joy you feel on opening day; the exhilaration you get when you hit another player home; and the kindness shown by a baseball idol who invited a kid in for an autograph.

“Want to know who the first person was to sign this ball? . . .”

Months later, with my daughters’ prodding, we organized a girls’ softball team in our neighborhood. And while none of them ever made it to the major leagues, they learned a new respect for the game, and none of them has since defaced another baseball.

Ted Janse

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