If ever there was a baseball player whose heart and sensibilities fit his birthday to a tee, it’s Jaime Cocanower.

Born on February 14, 1957, in Puerto Rico, Cocanower was a college standout at Baylor who was able to bypass the draft by virtue of his birthplace — though he was a US citizen and grew up in the States, the draft rules considered him an international amateur free agent.

Cocanower was thus eligible to sign with any big league team, and it was the Milwaukee Brewers who caught his eye.

Now, they weren’t the highest bidder — that honor went to the Toronto Blue Jays — but the Brewers promised to take care of Cocanower’s arm and shoulder, to keep him healthy, to bring him along to the majors in a slow arc if that’s how things played out naturally.

That was in stark contrast to what most young players want, but this Valentine’s Day baby wasn’t most players — he was introspective, thoughtful, full of heart, and devoted to giving the best he could to everything he did.

Off the diamond, that meant going back to Baylor to finish his degree, recognizing that even the greatest players only stand in the sunshine for a few short years.

On the diamond, that meant trying to harness and unleash the brilliance that lived in his right arm, and trying to break the grip his mind and heart had on his game.

As Cocanower told Brad Balukjian in The Wax Pack (the book), he had a hard time letting go of any perceived failure on the mound, and it would eat at him until his next appearance (at least).

And the word Cocanower uses to describe his baseball career? Frustrating.

If you look at his record with the Brewers, and in their farm system, you can sort of see why.

After a 20-appearance debut with the Stockton Ports in 1979, Cocanower was back in 1980, moving from swingman to a steady slot in the rotation.

The results for the 23-year-old were promising, to say the least: 17-5, 2.18 ERA.

That performance catapulted Cocanower all the way to the Triple-A Vancouver Canadians in 1981 … and that’s where he stalled.

From 1981 through 1983, Cocanower went a combined 23-26 with a 4.88 ERA.

His 10-10 record with a 4.81 ERA in 1983, though, was enough to get him called up to the Brewers in September as they faded in the AL East race a year after nearly winning the World Series.

In five appearances, Cocanower went 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA.

That showing bought him a ticket into the Brewers’ 1984 rotation, where he stayed pretty much all season, compiling an 8-16 record with a 4.02 ERA.

The next two seasons were up-and-down affairs for Cocanower — up with the Brew Crew for awhile, down on the farm for awhile.

And, after posting a 4.43 ERA in 17 appearances through July 12 of 1986, it was down again — this time, for good.

Seven games in the minors were followed by an outright release in December.

The next February, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Cocanower to a minor league deal, and he made 35 appearances — 21 starts — for the Albuquerque Dukes in 1987.

That spelled the end of his career at 30.

But that same summer, Topps gave collectors not one but two final looks at the man who would show his heart all during that encounter with Balukjian nearly 30 years on.

First, there was Cocanower’s base card, #423:

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And then, there was the Brewers Leaders cards (#56), which sort of inexplicably shows Cocanower in a mound visit with Charlie Moore, Herm Starrette, and Jim Gantner (?) … even though there’s no evidence he led the 1986 Brewers in any category.

Well, except for having the highest WHIP on the team, that is.

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Could it be that Topps knew Cocanower would be a black-and-white star in The Wax Pack all those years later?

Or, maybe they just expected him to come back to Milwaukee and really lead them to some good stuff.

Hard to say … but if you find yourself jonesing for some Valentine’s Day swag one of these years, you could do worse than a double shot of the Valentine Day boy himself, all done up in woodgrain splendor.


Hobby Wow!

Before Cocanower broke in with the Brewers, he spent a couple seasons with the Triple-A Vancouver Canadians, as evidenced by artifacts like this one …

That’s a Cocanower-signed Canadians pennant from 1981.

Check out the full listing right here on eBay (affiliate link).

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