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Column: T-minus 31 days and 307 signatures to go
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Column: T-minus 31 days and 307 signatures to go




Countdowns.

Seems like they’re everywhere.

Did you know it’s 54 days until the start of college football season? Well, most people would say 55 since the game on Aug. 27 is Abilene Christian at Georgia State.

It’s also 1,434 days until the United States, providing it qualifies, plays its next World Cup match.

Both of these, of course, were seen in the Facebook feeds of my friends, who I guess have little to do.

My favorite countdown of all time is the old 1-800-DIAL-MTV Top 10 Video Countdown. Back when Music Television actually meant music on television, the VJs (video jockeys) had a daily countdown of the viewers favorite videos taken by phone calls. Of course, us metal heads voted for Motley Crue’s "Home Sweet Home” over and over for so long they eventually put a "freshness” date on the videos to avoid such things. Spoil sports.

But right now, I have a countdown of my own. Two of them to be exact, one of them is a wee bit more important than the other, but they’re both related.

When this newspaper hits your doorstep, goes in your Wilson Times tube or gets picked up at a newspaper rack around town it will be T-minus 31 days for me as August 4, 2014, is the due date of my first child.

It’s going to be a boy, and no, we don’t have a name yet.

Of course, that countdown is a fluid one. All of you parents out there know he could pop out any day now, just whenever he feels like it.

So, we have a hospital bag packed up and ready to go at any moment in both of our cars. We’re also installing car seats in over the holiday weekend.

All of the thinking about being a father has made me quite nostalgic. Memories of my dad and I going to Parker Field in Richmond, Virginia, to watch the Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A affiliate play in the International League rush back to me all the time now. That was pretty much our "thing” to do over the years.

I have autographs from future Braves players such as Dale Murphy, Glen Hubbard, Brett Butler and one of my favorites, Brad Komminsk, as they passed through on their way to the majors. I didn’t scream out "Hey!” only to Braves players, however, as I also scooped up signatures of guys like Cal Ripken Jr., Don Mattingly and Steve "Bye-Bye” Balboni.

Along the way, I also got to meet Hall of Famers such as Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson and Bob Feller.

Seeing Feller, who I distinctly remember calling "a really, really old guy”, go out and strike out fans who dared challenge him was amazing. I was only 9 at the time, but I figured out he was 62 then by using the "Official” International League ball he signed that says — "Bob Feller 1980” — and his Wikipedia page birth date (November 3, 1918).

I wonder what great memories my son and I will share? I have no idea. Maybe, we can share some of the same sports-related passions. But no biggie if he would rather not.

That leads to my other countdown. It’s a daunting one, for sure, but over the past 8 months I’ve whittled it down by a substantial margin.

I’ve mentioned here before my quest for getting the entire 653 cards in the 1987 Fleer baseball set autographed. It consumed me as a 16-year-old when I obtained about 150 or so. But as 16 turned to 17, my passions switched allegiances from collecting cards to collecting phone numbers of girls and Fleer took a backseat to, well, just about everything else.

Because some cards have as many as five players on them, the total count of signatures needed to complete the set is 684.

On Wednesday, I got No. 377 — former journeyman catcher Dann Bilardello, who played for the Reds, Expos, Pirates and Padres during his eight seasons.

I sent him a letter, asking to sign the card, not just for myself, but for my son and me. Eleven days later, the card came back with a big black Sharpie signature.

And I smiled.

It’s strange, over the last 20 years, I’ve covered just about every kind of sporting event at every level. When I talk with athletes, coaches, etc., I don’t get nervous. I don’t get awestruck.

But, man, when I get one of those letters back with a signature, it’s a thrill ride that I can’t explain. I guess it must be the little kid, buried down inside poking his head out for a moment.

Saturday morning, the next batch of letters will go out. The group includes Will Clark, Leon "Bull” Durham, Juan Samuel and Sid Bream.

You never know if you’ll get them back, but you’ll also never know if you don’t try. And I speak from experience.

That 16-year-old Pittsburgh Pirates fan wrote a letter to a guy named Barry Lamar Bonds between the 1986 and ‘87 seasons. I found his father Bobby’s address and sent a letter of encouragement. You see, Barry had hit just .223 as a rookie with 102 strikeouts in 113 games. Folks were calling him a bust.

My letter was a bit dopey, I’m sure. I said things like, "Don’t give up!” and "I believe in you!”

And guess what? About a month later, he wrote back, signing the card I enclosed with a short note.

It was like my "Brady Bunch” moment. Like when Don Drysdale showed Greg a pitch or Joe Namath played catch with Bobby at 11222 Dilling Street (the address of the Brady house, of course).

The card, I still have. The note he penned, sadly, was tossed away by my mom.

To paraphrase it, Barry said "Thanks, kid. It means a lot.”

Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. But it has always stuck with me — a great memory.

And maybe one day, my son and I can complete that ‘87 Fleer set together and create an even better one.

rjones@wilsontimes.com | 265-8117 | Twitter: @RandyJonesWT
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