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About the Author
Mark Victor Hansen is a co-founder of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
Hometown:Santa Barbara, California
Date of Birth:August 19, 1944
Place of Birth:Fort Worth, Texas
Education:B.A. in History, Harvard University, 1966; M.A.T. Program, University of Chicago, 1968; M.Ed., U. of Massachusetts, 1973
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CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SPORTS FAN'S SOUL
Stories of Insight, Inspiration and Laughter from the World of Sports
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Mark Donnelly, Chrissy Donnelly, Jim Tunney
Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved.
LOVE OF THE GAME
Sports is life with the volume turned up.
Roger Maris and Me
I grew up in the shadow of Yankee Stadium, and just fell in love with baseball.
When Roger Maris came to the New York Yankees from the Kansas City Athletics in 1960, I was eleven. I had been burned in a fire in August, so I was laid up for a while and followed baseball even more closely. I remember a headline that said Roger Maris "rejuvenates" the Yankees. I had never heard the word before, but it made me think this Roger Maris was someone special.
For me, there was something about the way he swung the bat, the way he played right field and the way he looked. I had an idol. In 1961 the entire country was wrapped up in the home-run race between Maris and Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth's ghost. I cut out every single article on Roger and told myself that when I got older and could afford it, I would have my scrapbooks professionally bound. (Eight years ago I had all of them bound into eleven volumes.)
I usually sat in section 31, row 162-A, seat 1 in Yankee Stadium. Right field. I would buy a general admission ticket, but I knew the policeman, so I would switch over to the reserved seats, and that one was frequently empty I'd get to the stadium about two hours before it opened. I would see Roger park his car, and I would say hello and tell him what a big fan I was. After a while, he started to notice me. One day he threw me a baseball during batting practice, and I was so stunned I couldn't lift my arms. Somebody else got the ball. So Roger spoke to Phil Linz, a utility infielder, and Linz came over, took a ball out of his pocket and said, "Put out your hand. This is from Roger Maris."
After that, my friends kept pushing me: "Why don't you ask him for one of his home-run bats?" Finally, when Roger was standing by the fence, I made the request. He said, "Sure. Next time I break one."
This was in 1965. The Yankees had a West Coast trip, and I was listening to their game against the Los Angeles Angels on the radio late one night, in bed, with the lights out. And Roger cracked a bat. Next morning my high school friend called me. "Did you hear Roger cracked his bat? That's your bat."
I said, "We'll see."
When the club came back to town, my friend and I went to the stadium and, during batting practice, Rog walked straight over to me and said, "I've got that bat for you."
I said, "Oh, my God, I can't thank you enough."
Before the game, I went to the dugout. I stepped up to the great big policeman stationed there and poured my heart out.
"You have to understand, please understand, Roger Maris told me to come here, I was supposed to pick up a bat, it's the most important thing, I wouldn't fool you, I'm not trying to pull the wool over your eyes, you gotta let me...."
"No problem. Stand over here." He knew I was telling the truth.
I waited in the box-seat area to the left of the dugout, pacing and fidgeting. Then, just before game time, I couldn't stand it anymore. I hung over the rail and looked down the dimly lit ramp to the locker room, waiting for Rog to appear. When I saw him walking up the runway with a bat in his hand, I was so excited I almost fell. I don't know what he thought, seeing a kid hanging upside down, but when he handed me the bat, it was one of the most incredible moments in my young life.
I brought the bat home, and my friends said, "Now why don't you ask him for one of his Home-run baseballs?"
So I asked Roger, and he said, "You're gonna have to catch one, 'cause I don't have any."
Maris was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on December 8, 1966—a dark day for me. That year, I went off to college at the University of Akron, in Ohio. My roommate had a picture of Raquel Welch on his wall, and I had a picture of Roger Maris.
Everyone knew I was a big Maris fan. My friends said, "You say you know Roger Maris. Let's just go see." So six of us drove two and a half hours to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to see the Cardinals play the Pirates. It was May 9, 1967. We got to Forbes Field two hours before the game, and there was No. 9. It was the first time I had ever seen Roger Maris outside of Yankee Stadium, and I figured he wouldn't know me in this setting. I was very nervous. Extremely nervous, because I had five guys with me. I went down to the fence, and my voice quavered: "Ah, Rog ... Roger...."
He turned and said, "Andy Strasberg, what the hell are you doing in Pittsburgh?"
That was the first time I knew he knew my name. "Well, Rog, these guys from my college wanted to meet you, and I just wanted to say hello." The five of them paraded by and shook hands, and they couldn't believe it. I wished Rog good luck and he said, "Wait a minute. I want to give you an autograph on a National League ball." And he went into the dugout and got a ball and signed it. I put it in my pocket and felt like a million dollars.
In 1968, I flew to St. Louis, Missouri, to see Roger's last regular-season game. I got very emotional watching the proceedings at the end of the game. I was sitting behind the dugout, and Rog must have seen me because he later popped his head out and winked. It touched my heart. I was interviewed by the Sporting News, which found out I had made that trip from New York City expressly to see Roger retire. The reporter later asked Maris about me, and Roger said, "Andy Strasberg was probably my most faithful fan."
We started exchanging Christmas cards, and the relationship grew. I graduated from college and traveled the country looking for a job in baseball. When the San Diego Padres hired me, Roger wrote me a nice note of congratulations.
I got married in 1976, at home plate at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California. Rog and his wife, Pat, sent us a wedding gift, and we talked on the phone once or twice a year. In 1980, Roger and Pat were in Los Angeles for the All-Star Game, and that night we went out for dinner—my wife Patti and I, my dad, Roger and Pat.
When Roger died of lymphatic cancer in December 1985, I attended the funeral in Fargo, North Dakota. After the ceremony, I went to Pat and told her how sorry I felt. She hugged me, and then turned to her six children. "I want to introduce someone really special. Kids, this is Andy Strasberg." And Roger Maris Jr. said, "You're Dad's number-one fan."
There is a special relationship between fans—especially kids—and their heroes that can be almost mystical. Like that time my five college buddies and I traveled to Pittsburgh to see Roger. It's so real to me even today, yet back then it seemed like a dream.
I'm superstitious when it comes to baseball. That day I sat in row 9, seat 9, out in right field. In the sixth inning Roger came up to the plate and, moments later, connected solidly.
We all—my friends and I—reacted instantly to the crack of the bat. You could tell it was a homer from the solid, clean sound, and we saw the ball flying in a rising arc like a shot fired from a cannon. Suddenly everyone realized it was heading in our direction. We all leaped to our feet, screaming and jostling for position. But I saw everything as if in slow motion; the ball came toward me like a bird about to light on a branch. I reached for it and it landed right in my hands.
It's the most amazing thing that will ever happen in my life. This was Roger's first National League home run, and I caught the ball. Tears rolled down my face. Roger came running out at the end of the inning and said, "I can't believe it."
I said, "You can't? I can't!"
The chances of No. 9 hitting a home-run ball to row 9, seat 9 in right field on May 9, the only day I ever visited the ballpark, are almost infinitely remote. I can only explain it by saying it's magic—something that happens every so often between a fan and his hero. Something wonderful.
Postscript: On August 3, 1990, I received a phone call from Roger's son Randy and his wife, Fran. They were calling from a hospital in Orlando, Florida. Fran had just given birth to their first son. Fran and Randy wanted me to know that they named their son Andrew and asked if I would be his godfather. To this day I still can't believe that the grandson of my childhood hero, Roger Maris, is my namesake and also my godson.
To get the best out of a man, go to what is best in him.
In my time as a reporter, I have witnessed some impressive, moving and emotional things. But I had never seen anything like what I experienced during time spent with Michael Jordan in 1990 and 1991. Though his purely athletic feats were well-documented, I often saw things that made all the athletic heroics fade away.
One night after a game, Jordan approached his car, which the security guards had readied. There were so many people and so much noise, and about twenty feet away was a little boy in a wheelchair. Jordan was clearly in a hurry; he had his own son with him. So he opened his car door, and somehow saw the boy. He walked over, got down on the ground beside him and spoke. Jordan comforted the child, talking slowly. This was not something that had been set up by the team; the boy's father had just brought him there to get a close glimpse of Jordan. Though it was freezing, Jordan remained crouched down by the boy until his father could take a picture. Only then did he return to his car. You can't set out to learn how to do this. No one can tell you how or advise you on it; it comes from something deep inside. If nothing else good ever happens for that little boy, he will always know that, on that night, Michael Jordan included him in his world.
At another game, I met Carmen Villafane. Her disabilities were so severe, her physical limitations so pronounced, that strangers tended to avert their eyes. I wondered how she was able to have her wheelchair positioned on the floor behind the Bulls bench at every game.
She must come from a family with a lot of pull, I thought.
Well, not exactly, I learned.
In talking to her, I discovered that about a year earlier she had made a valentine for Jordan. She had managed to get tickets to a game and give it to him. He opened it right there in front of her, read it and thanked her.
Months later, she saw him at an auto show, and he asked her why she hadn't been at any more games. When Jordan learned Carmen had only had that single ticket, he instructed her to call his office. Without much hope, she did, and the office staff knew all about her. They mailed tickets for the remainder of the season. The following season Jordan sent her more tickets and a handwritten note. The letter said: "I hope you enjoy the season ahead. I'm looking forward to seeing you at every game—Michael."
Carmen was not the only one touched by Jordan. One time I got to the stadium early and found him on the playing surface of the stadium with hours to go before game time. He grabbed a basketball and motioned to two of the teenage ball boys to guard him. They glanced at each other; this was new. They were accustomed to shagging balls for him, but tonight he was inviting them to play. I watched as the two ball boys dribbled and passed. Jordan chased them into a corner of the court, laughing with them, reaching for the ball, slapping it out of their hands. The unspoken, priceless message he was sending them was that they were good enough for this—they were good enough to play around with him.
Another time, I had written a column about a random act of kindness I had seen Jordan do for a child outside the arena. It was when all this was new to me, before I knew that he did this kind of thing all the time.
A reader called in response and told me he and his wife had been to a Bulls game and their car had broken down. "We were four blocks from the stadium, in a bad area, and at the corner under a streetlight was Jordan's car," he said. "He was standing outside the car, talking with some neighborhood boys. It was late at night and they were just talking."
Later I asked Jordan about these boys. He said the year before, he'd seen them waiting outside the stadium in terrible weather, wanting a glimpse of the Bulls. He brought them in with him to the game. "Now they wait for me on that corner every night.... They're just kids who seem like they really need someone to talk to," he told me. Jordan's wife later told me he asks the boys to show him their grades to make sure they are keeping up with their schoolwork.
Jordan remembers that once he was a kid learning how to lift a basketball into the air. He was once a boy who was told that he wasn't good enough. He remembers every detail of being cut from the basketball team when he was a high school sophomore. Jordan told me: "We stood there and looked for our names. Mine wasn't on the list. I looked and looked. It was almost as if I didn't stop looking, it would be there."
When reality set in that morning he was cut, Jordan went through the rest of the day numb. "Then I hurried into my house and I closed the door of my room and I cried so hard. It was all I wanted, to play on that team."
At the end of that high school season, Jordan worked up the nerve to ask the coach if he could ride along on the bus with the team to a district tournament. "The coach told me no. But I asked again, and he said I could come. When we got there, he told me the only way I could go in was to carry the players' uniforms. So that's what I did."
He told me he was glad the episode happened because it taught him what disappointment felt like, and he never wanted to feel that way again.
In those years that I spent with Jordan, the world I wrote about had become no less grim, no less dismaying than it had been the first time I'd walked into the stadium. Nothing was going to change that; if anything, this world of ours keeps spinning itself into crueler and more sorrowful shape.
But there is more than one way to look upon that world. Of all the things I'd taken away from all those stadium nights, maybe that was the most important: the knowledge that, if you look closely enough, amid the merciless and the bitter, there is always the chance that you may find comfort and the promise of something good.
I have often been told that I am a quarterback with the mindset of a running back. People have always commented on my ability to scramble, yet that wasn't always my style. All professional athletes retain vivid memories of events that helped mold them into the players they are today. The following story marks the beginning of my scrambling techniques.
I was nine years old and playing in a competitive game of Pop Warner football. I played running back for the North Mianus Indians. We were playing against the Belle Haven Buzzards and our quarterback had tossed me the ball. I took a few tentative steps and while I was trying to figure out where I should run, I was tackled. It was an illegal neck-tackle that threw me on my back and knocked the wind out of me.
As I tried to catch my breath, I saw my parents run onto the field towards me. I thought, Oh, gosh, please Mom, go back to the sideline. You see, it was okay to have my dad run out on the field. His nickname is "Grit" and he was a running back himself while at Brigham Young University. But, it was certainly not cool to have my mother, Sherry, come charging over with him. They finally reached me and, much to my surprise, as my father bent down to see how I was doing, my mother leapt over me, ran several more yards and grabbed the kid who had tackled me. As she picked him off the ground by his jersey, she shook him and shouted, "Don't neck-tackle!"
Needless to say, I was fine, but I'm not sure my opponent ever recovered from the shock. From that moment forth, I learned how to scramble, and quickly. I lived in fear of being tackled and had visions of my mother storming on the field to reprimand the tackler. We were teased about that incident for years. Even through high school, if someone tackled me too roughly, friends would yell, "Go get 'em, Sherry!" So, through a little unintentional motivation from Mom, I learned there are tremendous advantages to scrambling and avoiding tacklers.
If It Makes Him Happy
Without humility there can be no humanity.
Tom Hauser, who worked with Muhammad Ali on his biography, appeared on my show, Up Close, a few years ago as a stand-in for Ali. Ali had agreed to appear after many entreaties, and I was thrilled. Now suffering from Parkinson's disease, his speech is slow and difficult to understand. I knew the viewers wouldn't mind, that they would appreciate a chance to see that Ali, while down, isn't out, that his indefatigable spirit is still there. He had a last-minute change of heart, though, feeling that he wouldn't be able to be himself and Hauser came in his stead.
On that show Hauser told me a story that encapsulates the gentle love that Ali inspires wherever he goes.
Excerpted from CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SPORTS FAN'S SOUL by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Mark Donnelly, Chrissy Donnelly, Jim Tunney. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. LOVE OF THE GAME,
2. DEFINING MOMENTS,
3. HIGHLIGHTS AT ELEVEN,
4. ON TEAMS AND SPORTSMANSHIP,
5. INSIDE THE GAME,
6. OVERCOMING OBSTACLES,
7. FAMILY DAY,
8. WISDOM OF THE GAME,
9. ROAR OF THE CROWD,
Who Is Jack Canfield?,
Who Is Mark Victor Hansen?,
Who Is Chrissy Donnelly?,
Who Is Mark Donnelly?,
Who Is Jim Tunney?,