BUFFALO — One of the gifts I received last Christmas was a wall-mounted clear case designed to display a dozen baseballs. At first, filling it properly proved problematic.
I wrote a couple of years ago at this time that my family’s collection of baseballs numbered 84. That total included balls autographed by stars from the present day and immediate past, as well as those used simply to play catch and others left in a muddy bucket, in the corner of the garage.
When the 2014 season begins next week, the memories will be rekindled.
No. 1 is the autographed Cleveland Indians ball that my Uncle Walt gave me for Christmas, almost 50 years ago. It may be the first “hard ball” I ever owned.
Just as special is the second baseball in the case, signed by Cal Ripken Jr. I bought it in 1995, the year Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. Next to it is the ball autographed by Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers, the last man to win at least 30 games in a season. It was a gift from my friend Bob White.
No. 4 is a ball autographed by 1988 World Series MVP Orel Hershiser. I met him in 2002, while working on a story about his Western New York roots. That was how I discovered his favorite food as a kid was peanut butter and baloney sandwiches.
No. 5 was hit by New York Yankee Robinson Cano, at batting practice in Cleveland, during the 2007 playoffs. Having access to foul balls is a perk of having press credentials, but don’t tell anybody.
No. 6 was a home-run ball hit by my son, Jonathan, during his Little League days. Unfortunately, it was one of only a handful of games I ever missed. Jon’s coach, John White, told him to retrieve the ball from behind the left-field fence, because he knew I would want it.
No. 7 was smacked off the backstop by Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, prior to the 2008 Home Run Derby at the old Yankee Stadium.
No. 8 was hit by Detroit utility player Andy Dirks, prior to the fourth game of the 2012 World Series in Detroit. That foul ball was the last from batting practice not to make it onto the playing field at Comerica Park that evening, the last game played in the post-season that year, as San Francisco swept the home team in four straight.
I purchased No. 9 at a souvenir stand in Petco Park in San Diego, last May 21. My wife and I were celebrating our anniversary that week, and miraculously, the Padres were playing at home against the St. Louis Cardinals. Within minutes of making the purchase, I received a text message from my son that he had recovered a foul ball for me back here in Buffalo at Coca-Cola Field. That is ball No. 10.
No. 11 is also a Bisons product. The team sponsored its annual “Mystery Ball” promotion, late in the season. For $20, fans could buy an autographed baseball wrapped in silver to conceal its signature. The inventory ranged from Hollywood stars to local TV personalities, as well as major league players and current Bisons.
I opened my purchase to reveal I had obtained a ball signed by Blue Jay Melky Cabrera. I swapped it for one autographed by Orchard Park native and Bison infielder Jim Negrych.
That acquisition put the Sherman collection at 99.
So, on Aug. 25, the Bisons’ final regular season afternoon game at home, I was stationed in the photo pit adjacent to the visiting team’s dugout, on the third-base side of the field. Early in the third inning, a Lehigh Valley player smacked a ground ball just past the outstretched hand of the third-base coach. The ball rolled up into my hands, as if it had been captured by a magnet.
It was No. 100 in our collection and No. 12 in the case. The fun resumes, next week. Are you ready?
David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.