The Jim Kern Story Revisited

OK, so, yeah, this is kind of classic.

A month or so ago, I retold my Jim Kern story. Quickly it goes something like this: When I was 8 or so, my Dad took me to a Cleveland Indians game. That was the first time, I believe, that I became aware of the autograph concept. Funny, writing those words, I was reminded of a whole other autograph moment -- one I’m not proud of but should probably tell. When I was 25 years old, I was columnist at the Augusta Chronicle and I was in the stands at a minor league baseball game. I wasn’t there to cover the game, I was watching it with some friends. And then a cute little kid -- probably 8 years old or so -- came up to me and asked for my autograph. I had never had anyone ask me for my autograph (and why would anyone?) and I was SURE it was a gag being pulled off by my friends. What else could it have been?

So I said to the boy: “Oh, you don’t want my autograph.” Well, you know how sometimes you say something with the intention it will sound one way but then you hear your voice and comes out sound ENTIRELY different, not unlike the sound of trumpet the first time you blow one? I meant to say it in a gentle and jokey way, you know, all good fun, but it came out a little louder than I had intended, and it came out with a little more certainty than i had intended and, anyway, what I didn’t know was that 8-year-old kids have not yet developed that kind of humor. The kid really wanted my autograph -- he and his Dad read my column in the paper every morning -- and here I was actually TURNING HIM DOWN. And he started to get tears in his eyes.

You can’t really make up for that. Of course I tried ... I immediately apologized profusely and I signed the autograph and I told him I’d sign as many autographs as he wanted and I went back with him to meet his father and I think I bought them a new boat on layaway. I did whatever else I could think of doing. But that initial jolt was the enduring action, and I felt utterly miserable. My first autograph and I totally messed it up. Ever since then, I’ve tried to sign every autograph request enthusiastically ... which has at others times caused me to get burned by people who were only asking for the autograph as a lark. But so it goes. Better that than disappoint a kid.

Anyway, I was the 8-year-old kid in the Jim Kern story, and I went down to get his autograph, and just as it was my turn he said he had to go to the bullpen. I started crying -- that awful try to hold-back-the-tears kind of crying -- and Kern ran over and signed the autograph which made me feel great. Unfortunately he signed it in pencil so when I got back to the seat to show my father, I couldn’t even find it.

Years later, after I wrote this little story, someone forwarded it to Kern himself. And he sent me this baseball.

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In case you can’t see that, it says “To Joe. Quit whining!” It was a prized possession.

You will now say: “Was?” Yeah. Was. Monday morning I came into my office. And this ... thing ... was ... sitting ... on ... my ... desk.

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Yeah, we have a dog. Wesley. Named for the man in black in “The Princess Bride.” He’s a good dog most of the time. Yes. We have two daughters. They are supposed to watch the dog and make sure he doesn’t come into my office. They are good daughters most of the time.

I think it’s just destiny that I will never, ever have Jim Kern’s autograph.