Today begins a weekend of autograph indulgence that I feel should be introduced with a story.
Growing up in southern Maryland, I didn't have much of a choice when it came to baseball teams. Before MLB Network, before MLB On Demand, and before MASN2 (or MASN for that matter), there was HTS. Home Team Sports was the exclusive broadcaster of Baltimore Orioles games, and my sole option when it came to watching baseball. My family grew up in New York, so most of them were either Mets or Yankees Fans. I was born in Boston, but moved to Maryland when I was very young, so I had no particular allegiance to the Red Sox at that age. The Orioles of the late 90's were not the basement-dwelling teams that have plagued Baltimore for the past decade, but were still frequently defeated by the Yankees.
The year was 1996. While I had no particular affinity for the Orioles, I did feel a growing hatred for the Yankees that continues to grow to this day. All summer long, I watched as the Orioles suffered loss after loss at the hands of the Evil Empire. I longed for change. I wanted to see new players, new teams, new stadiums. I wanted to watch a team that could beat the New York Yankees.
Thanks to a rich old man with a bit of an ego (who has both a stadium AND television network named after himself), I was able to tune in to TBS a few days a week to watch Braves games. I quickly became a fan of their dominant pitching staff, but it was Chipper Jones who became my favorite player. After the Tony Tarasco incident in the 1996 ALCS (ask any Orioles fan about it, it's the last playoff memory they have to remember), I threw my full support behind the Braves in hopes of watching the Yankees crumble in the World Series.
My new team couldn't overcome Joe Torre's Yankees that year (or again in 1999), but they continued to dominate the NL East for many years with the likes of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Andruw Jones, and, of course, Chipper Jones.
As a teenager, I grew out of love with baseball, but I never sold my cards or memorabilia. It wasn't until my freshman year of college in the late summer of 2004 that my love of the game was rekindled. My roommate and his father were both huge Red Sox fans, and my roommate always tuned in when the Sox were playing games on the major networks like ESPN and FOX. That fall, the three of us drove from New Jersey to Boston to watch Game 2 of the World Series from outside Fenway Park. To this day, I've never seen so many people huddled outside the stadium on a cold October night, peeking in bar windows for a glimpse at the action after cheers erupted from inside the park a split second earlier. For me, baseball was back.
Now, eight years after the curse was reversed, I'm back in the full swing of autograph collecting. Chipper is in the twilight of his career and seems destined for Cooperstown. This weekend, I find myself in a position to bring my childhood full circle, with the chance to meet him for the first time. While I don't follow the Braves like I did when I was younger, I always check the box scores to see how Chipper played the night before. I still have the same card binder I started 15 years ago, packed to the brim with over 400 cards of his likeness. If I can get just one card signed by him, just a moment of interaction with my childhood hero, the weekend will have been a great success.