If you have a bucket list of baseball players you want to see in person before you die, then Spring Training is the place for you.
At least, that’s the way I imagine it to be — I’ve never actually been to a spring camp or spring game. But it stands to reason …
After all, everybody who plans or hopes to be on a Major League team in the upcoming season spends February and March in Florida or Arizona getting ready for the summer rigors to come. Well, everyone except Bryce Harper, anyway.
Still, if you’re looking to actually see a given player, there are probably worse ways to go about it than finding your way to the cozy confines of a Spring Training contest. But what happens if you never get to see a particular player in action?
Well, then you’ve probably got some regrets. And that’s what this Day 25 of my 2019 Spring Training Baseball Card Challenge is all about — celebrating in cardboard a player I never got the chance to celebrate in person, at a real game.
And, while I’m trying really hard to keep my team and player biases out of this series as much as possible, this is one where I’m having a hard time doing that. I mean, by its very nature, this one sets me up to look into some of my favorite subjects.
So … too bad. I’m writing about a Cincinnati Red.
In particular, I’m writing about a guy from the Big Red Machine that even my dad knew about when I started following baseball in a more or less hardcore manner in 1983.
See, my dad never had much patience for baseball and considered it sort of a wimpy sport, if he were being candid with you. He was all about football and, to some extents basketball, as long as there were big, physical men like Wilt Chamberlain involved.
Dad was and is tough, and he just didn’t see non-contact sports as tough enough to warrant his fandom.
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But more than anything else, Dad is a Dad, with a capital, italicized, bold “D.” So when I embraced the diamond, Dad was right there to regale me with all the knowledge he had on the subject. And, having been a young man starting a family in central Indiana during the 1970s, much of what dad knew revolved around the Reds.
From what Dad could tell me …
- Joe Morgan may have been the greatest player ever.
- Pete Rose was a jerk.
- Catching was killing Johnny Bench.
- Dave Concepcion was definitely somebody.
But the guy whose legendary Redlegs exploits made the biggest impact on Dad was slugger George Foster.
Was he still with the Reds?
Dad wanted to know in about 1983, and I had to break the news that, no, Foster was with the New York Mets.
That was too bad, because he could hit the ball farther than anyone else. Maybe ever.
Wow! That was a crazy thought, and crazy baseball praise coming from my dad. So right then and there, George Foster became one of my all-time favorite players, and I ran to my meager but growing collection to pull all of the Foster cards I could find.
I remember two cards from that period pretty vividly …
- The 1982 Topps KMart 25th Anniversary card chronicling Foster’s monstrous 1977 season that yielded a batting line of .320, 52 home runs, 149 RBI and landed Foster the National League Most Valuable Player award (and the KMart appearance).
- The 1981 Fleer “Slugger” card that showed him with the biggest smile I’d ever seen on the face of a baseball player.
That Fleer card, in particular, has been one of my favorites for nearly four decades now, and it always makes me long for simpler times, but also look forward to the joys the game still has in store for me as a fan.
Mostly, though, it makes me think of my dad — what doesn’t, though? — and wish that we had been able to watch Foster play in person, together.
Check out the entire series of 2019 Spring Training Challenge posts here.