On December 21, my grandfather passed away. Papa was 84. He is the only grandfather I have ever known (my maternal grandfather passed away when my mom was eight). In my 30 years with him, he taught me many things. One of those things was about the Atlanta Braves. Neither of us knew when I was a kid how much I would come to love this game.
It is no secret that I used to kiss and hug the TV every time Dale Murphy came to the plate. Papa would use his trademark whistle to call myself and my cousin, Amy into the room. If a game was on, we knew it meant to hurry up because Murph was either on deck or already at the plate.
One of my favorite memories with Papa also involves baseball. When I was about 13, one of our favorite Braves players was coming to Charlotte for an autograph signing. Papa showed us an ad in the sports section of the paper announcing World Champion Atlanta Braves Catcher, Javy Lopez, would be at the Charlotte Merchandise Mart. When Papa discovered the ad, Javy’s appearance was just a couple of days away. Naturally, we begged and pleaded for Papa to take us to meet Javy (or Harvey, as Papa insisted on calling him). Papa conceded and said he’d take us, even though it was $20 per autograph and we’d be standing in long lines.
The day finally came and we eagerly waited in line with other fidgety kids and adults for a few minutes of our hero’s time. I don’t recall much about standing in line, but I’m sure it was filled with Amy & I chattering. I do remember the kid in front of us. His mom forgot to bring a camera and Papa had his Polaroid around his neck. The teenage boy asked if there was any way at all Papa would take a picture of him and Javy. Papa agreed and made the boy’s day.
Finally, it was our turn. I think Amy went first. I remember being very excited, but not nervous. Javy smiled and shook my hand. He signed my ball, which is sitting atop my jewelry armoire in a baseball case. It’s a little discolored now, but the signature in blue pen ink is still clear and the ball still smells like rubber if I remove the top half of the case’s cover. I asked if I could take a picture with him and he agreed. This was really happening! I moved behind the table and stood behind Javy. I always remember how good he smelled.
It was over way too quickly, but it was one of the greatest days of my life. And I’m glad that I always have that memory to look back on, especially when I think of Papa.