Monday, January 28, 2008

Goodbye Lieby...

I met Mike Lieberthal several times when he was playing catcher on the Philadelphia Phillies. He was, and still is, in my humble opinion, a well-rounded, respectable guy. He had a nice demeanor and was kind to this old "kid," taking the time to shake my hand and sign an autograph or so.

He and his battery mate, Randy Wolf, were two of my favorite players when they were with the Fightin's (one of Phillies numerous nicknames). Actually, I eventually got to meet Wolfy at a local "Phillies Caravan" event at the Harrisburg East Mall. Superb fellows, both of them. (It took three missed opportunities, but eventually I got to meet most of the guys on the 2000-2005 team...Todd Pratt, Ricky Lidee, Kevin Millwood, Lieby, Wolfy, Scott Rolen, Doug Glanville, Bobby Abreu, Jim Thome, Marlon Byrd, etc.)

Baseball has always been significant in my life. Some of my earliest memories trace back to my grandfather listenin' to the Orioles play on his radio, forever on besides his comfy chair, and him watchin' some other team on TV, usually the Braves, the Cubs, or any National League team. It was Pop-pop who taught me about the game of baseball, gave me history about the Negro Leagues, and the players who came before. Despite my strained relationship with my grandfather when he died, we shared the love of the game. It'll always be the one cherished item from my childhood.

After most of my father's family died in the 1990s, I gave up on baseball because it was too painful, the recollections from childhood pushed through. I was deep in therapy at that point and uncovering the excruciating reality of my past. Life wasn't a bag of peanuts or box of Cracker Jack's. Life was rough, dark, and opening doors I slammed shut. The truth was, my memories of baseball made me feel unsettled, yet happy.

When Miss T and I were married, I got reacquainted with the game. Learned to love it again. Allowed myself to heal. Baseball was again something I could obsess, love, rush home from work to catch, and spend hours doing. During this time, I went to games; started my tours of Baseball venues. The one thing Pop-pop and I never did when I was younger was go to a real professional game. DC in the 80s didn't a team. So believe it or not, my first game I ever went was to was in my 20s. Wanna guess what happened? I got to meet Lieby! My first game and I actually got to meet a player! Yeah got a little star crazy, but as I said, baseball brings out the child in me.

I was shocked when Miss T called saying Mike announced his retirement. I almost cried when she told me. My baseball icons gone back to Cali, now one is retiring.... noooooooooo!!!!
While he was in Philly, on a decline and injury prone, many a fan called for Mike to hang up his glove and cleats. They got their wish this year, he won't be back for the 2008 season. As the Phillies deconstructed, Lieby and Wolfy departed back to LA (their hometown), Bobby Abreu went to the Yankees, Cory Lidle, who had left, was killed in a plane crash, and other players were flying coop, I was crestfallen. As players got traded (or wanted to be traded), gradually I lost interest in the Phillies, except to catch Ryan Madsen , Jimmy "J-Roll" Rolins, or Ryan Howard play, I mostly watched in passing. My fan appreciation went to LA (deservedly so, Wolfy, Lieby, and Nomar, oh yeah!) and the Boston Red Sox.

The Phillies had and have major problems, but like any Philadelphia professional sports team, there are memorable moments moments. Who can forget Kevin Millwood's no hitter? Meeting Lieby was an awesome experience. I don't think there's a nicer guy who I've met celebrity-wise, and there's been quite a few folks from different walks of celebrity status: political, film, musician, and athlete, but I digress. No need for bragging, which I'm not, just emphasizing my point.

Some may question why I gravitated to a white guy? Well I suppose one could bring up rumors, but it's never been confirmed. I won't sully his image by speculating, it doesn't matter to me (but I think I know the deal). But no, it has nothing to do with race. Not really. It transcends that, just one "kid" meeting his hero. Even grown ups have heroes. We should never stop having them.

So you know,I do have many African American heroes, too many to mention. Let Miss T tell you about the Danny Glover experience (never double shake Ian, never)! Perhaps I'll blog about it another time. It's embarrassing, LOL.

I'm not sure if Leiby will make it into the Hall of Fame, I really couldn't tell you his stats, but when he left Philadelphia he was the longest tenured player on any professional sports team (Eagles, Sixers, Phillies, or Flyers!) He'll always be a hero in my book. My only hope now is the Phillies will see another World Series before I die.

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President Barack Obama!