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Sparky Anderson (1934 – 2010)

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Although I am a bit too young to remember Sparky Anderson in all of his glory, celebrating one of his three World Series Championships, I do remember going down to old municipal stadium in Cleveland and seeing him on the bench for the Tigers.  While, there will be better, more complete pieces written about the man that they call Sparky from people that enjoyed his entire career, I find it fitting to share a story that I have about him.  This represents another example of writers missing their mark with timing. Too often the stories come out a day too late. Not that Sparky didn’t know that he was loved, but we, as a populous should start celebrating great people while they are around more than we do, once they have passed.

My story about Sparky takes me back to 1991. I was an 8 year old kid who loved baseball. It was a Sunday in July, John Candiotti was taking on Frank Tanana, and I was there with my dad, life doesn’t get much better than that.  I liked to get down to the stadium early, one because normally we sat in the general admission sections, and two because it gave me a chance to see my heroes up close and personally. At 8 years old, my favorite players were Joe Carter and Dave Winfield, however, if you were on the field and had a jersey on, then you were a hero to me.

We had some pretty good seats for this game. I am not sure if my dad bought them, or if they were given to him, but I want to thank whomever put those tickets in his hand, because they provided me with a baseball memory to last a lifetime. The seats were right behind the Tiger dugout, which was great because it put me closer to the players. I didn’t know much about Sparky Anderson aside from that his 1989 Topps baseball card was always on the top of my stack because what young kid wouldn’t like someone named Sparky? The game was getting ready to begin, and Sparky was walking towards the dugout. Just as he was about to go in, I called out to him “good luck Sparky!”  I had an Indians jersey and hat on, and I didn’t expect a response, but he looked over, moved towards me, winked and said: “Great day for a ballgame! You’re why I love showin’ up.”

And with that, I went from an 8 year old who loved baseball, to an 8 year old who couldn’t live without it. This also seems to contradict one of his famous quotes: “The only reason I’m coming out here tomorrow is because the schedule says I have to.”  However, from what I have learned about Sparky, anyone that believed that in the first place had no idea about the man.  Unfortunately baseball is losing great ambassadors faster than they are replacing them. Sparky joins Harry Kalas, Ernie Harwell, and countless others that brought so much to the game, without asking anything in return.

A man is remembered by the legacy that he leaves behind. Sparky leaves behind a great legacy, and some great quotes.

“It doesn’t cost anything to be nice to people.

“I can’t believe they pay us to play baseball – something we did for free as kids.”

“People who live in the past generally are afraid to compete in the present. I’ve got my faults, but living in the past is not one of them. There’s no future in it.”

“The great thing about baseball is when you’re done, you’ll only tell your grandchildren the good things. If they ask me about 1989, I’ll tell them I had amnesia.”

“I don’t know why the players make such a big fuss about sitting in the first class section of the plane. Does that mean they’ll get there faster?”

“They say the first World Series is the one you remember most. No, no no. I guarantee you don’t remember that one because the fantasy world you always dreamed about is suddenly real.”

“The commissioner needs a tremendous bouquet for what he’s done. He stepped in there now, and they’re drawing all over. … I got a kick out of them when they used to say baseball is dying, and football is No. 1. I hate to break the sad news to football, but nothing will ever take the place of baseball. When it goes bad, call me, because I won’t be around, but I can be reached under the ground.”

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