Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bill Veeck and Me

Yesterday, Today in Baseball had a piece on the anniversary of Bill Veeck becoming a Major League team owner. It reminded me of my encounter with him.

In September of 1981, I was living in Boulder. Since I was born and raised in Colorado, I was looking to live somewhere else, just because I thought I should. I had a hot job prospect in Peoria, IL, and I was called back there for a second in-person interview. Being the resourceful type, I decided to take Amtrak, because the Denver - Peoria route included a change of trains in Chicago. There was no additional charge for a layover, and on the way back, I spent a few extra days in the Windy City. On Saturday and Sunday, I made my first and second trips to see the White Sox play at Comiskey Park. On Monday, the Cubs were playing at home. Prior to that trip, I'd only seen five Major League games in my life. How could I not take advantage of the opportunity?

One of my closest friends at the time (sadly, since estranged), a friend of his, and I got walk-up bleacher tickets for an afternoon affair with the Cubs. You could easily do that in those days. Unbelievably, only 3,635 of us elbowed our way into The Friendly Confines that afternoon. It would be a trick to squeeze in the game and get me to Union Station in time for my trip home, but it was doable. Still, I had one eye on the clock the whole game.

The Cardinals shut out the Cubs, 2-0, in a snappy 2 hours and 33 minutes. The timing was good, but we couldn't dawdle. We left our seats and went underneath the bleachers to exit to the street. My friend said, "Hey, I think that's Bill Veeck!" Sure enough, he'd been watching the game in the bleachers with us, pegleg and all.

There was a crowd around him, and Bill was signing autographs. I went through a phase where I thought asking for an autograph of anyone was rather déclassé. I could very well have been in the middle of that phase at that point.

I did, however, come equipped with a camera! I had a Kodak Pocket Instamatic, that was roughly the size of an ice cream sandwich. It was a relatively good point 'n' shoot camera for the time, even though it was in the short-lived 110 format. It didn't have a built-in flash, but it did accept a flash cube -- a four-sided flash bulb that rotated after every shot.

I whipped out my camera and gave it to my friend. When it was my turn with Bill, I asked him if I could get a picture with him. He was very friendly, and he bellowed, "Ah, why do you want a picture of an old guy like me?" Then he put his arm around me in a bear hug sort of a way and posed for the shot.

My friend squeezed the shutter button, and... the freakin' flash didn't go off! Since we were underneath the bleachers, it was dark enough that it was necessary. Worse yet, it was the last exposure on my last film cartridge.

I didn't think (or didn't want to -- see above) of asking for an autograph. If we'd waited until we were out on the street, we wouldn't have needed the flash. We scooted out of there pronto so that I didn't have to walk back to Colorado.

Needless to say, the picture didn't come out. Years later, I dug through boxes and boxes of photos until I finally found the negative. I was hoping I could take it to a professional lab and get some sort of image from it. Alas, the whole frame was blank.

Even though I don't have the photograph, I had a momentary encounter with one of the legends of the game. That picture will be in my mind forever.

As luck would have it, and after several months of being strung along, I didn't get the Peoria job. The woman who referred me said, "Sorry about that. Why don't you try this guy in Boston. I hear he's looking for someone." I called, and six weeks later, I was living there. I've often contemplated how different my life would have turned out if I'd landed in Peoria instead of the Hub of the Universe. Not nearly as much fun, methinks!

©2009 Douglas T. Dinsmoor


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