The other day I was going through some old Sports Illustrated issues and came across this issue from October of 1990. I had sent this to Chris Sabo the year after the Red’s World Series sweep of the A’s.
Sabo was a hero to all little leaguers with bad vision because he made it cool to wear those goggles. Before the plastic goggles, kids just had to wear their regular glasses. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, contact lenses weren’t really an affordable option for many of us. I was fortunate enough to have vision that didn’t go south until high school so I didn’t have to deal with glasses or goggles.
Thinking back to this time period, I think it was the summer before 5th grade that I met a new kid in the neighborhood. Probably 1989 or 1990 I’d say. His name was Zach and we had a lot in common. Naturally, we spent most of the summer fishing in the pond by our house, swimming in his pool, or playing catch. Both of us were big baseball fans so one thing was for sure, whether we were fishing, swimming or playing – we were definitely TALKING about baseball.
We spent a lot of time tossing the ball around his front yard and while I played little league that summer, Zach had just moved to town so he never made it onto a team that year. I remember one particular evening, Zach and I were playing catch and his step-dad pulled up in the driveway. He gets out of the car, pops his trunk and pulls a well-worn catcher’s mitt out. He motioned for the ball and joined in. After a few tosses, he gave Zach and I a few quick pointers on the fundamentals of throwing. He was clearly a little bit more educated on baseball fundamentals than the average dad with a glove in his trunk. I thought he would make a great little league coach one day.
We continued to toss the ball around as he shared a few stories about guys named Tony Perez, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose. He tossed a few more and then headed in the house. I asked Zach how his dad knew so much about those guys and this is the part that I will never forget for the rest of my life…
As Zach tossed the ball back to me and just as casual as one could say it, Zach says,
“Yeah, he was a catcher for the Reds.”
Now we had been buds for all of 5 weeks, we talked about baseball every chance we had, and never ONCE had this come up.
Not one single time.
I felt betrayed. I had never been so mad in my life. That summer I had major-league royalty right under my nose the entire time and didn’t even know it. How could this family factoid be something that he didn’t see the need in sharing?
For the life of me, I cannot remember Zach’s step-dad’s last name. Over the years, whenever I think about it, I’ll run a few Google searches to see if I can find any pictures of the guy. I remember seeing some pictures of him with the big-name Reds players.
Thinking back, it was never a team picture that he showed me. Only single pictures of him with guys like Rose, Concepcion, or Perez. He was in the full uniform and definitely on the field with those guys. As I try to piece together those memories, I think he may have been a bullpen catcher in the mid 70’s or something. Crazy to think that he may have been part of that World Champion ’76 team.
Zach moved a few years later and we lost touch. His old house is still there and I drive by it when I go see my parents. Every time I see his front yard, I remember the day that kid told me that his dad was a professional baseball catcher like it was nothing.