How a 1989 Upper Deck baseball card got me thrown out of a Little League Game
When I was playing little league baseball, I only got thrown out of one game. In fact, in all of my years of playing sports, even through high school, I only got thrown out of one game, and it was all because of a 1989 Upper Deck baseball card.
I know that this story sounds like it will be about the monumental Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card, but it’s not. And no, this isn’t about a trade gone bad, although I was on the receiving of a number of those. No, this is about how card # 609 forever changed the way I played baseball.
My dad never played organized sports, but he always made sure that my older brother and I had ever chance to play. Whenever he came home from work, we would play catch or play basketball. Once we began to play Little League, he taught us how to switch hit. While I never took to it like my older brother, I learned to hit the ball well, nonetheless. As a result, I was one of the better players on my little league team.
I had one slight problem; I was “husky.” I think it’s a rule that every little League team has a bigger kid on the team. Usually, the big kids play first base, which is where I played at the beginning of the season. Soon, however, the coach noticed that I had a decent arm and was not afraid of the ball. So he asked me to play catcher.
For the readers who were husky, big-boned, healthy, or just plain big, bending over and squatting down with your back to the crowd may not have the same appeal it has to other kids.
On the way to the first game after the position switch, my dad noticed nervousness in me that was new. He asked me what was wrong and after a few attempts of non-response, I finally told him about why I didn’t want to play catcher. His reply forever changed my life. He told me that one of the greatest catchers of all-time was a bigger guy who was sometimes called “Pudge.” He told me of his toughness and swagger. I was an instant fan.
Over the next few weeks, I found out as much about Pudge as I could. This was before the Internet, so the best way for kids to learn about baseball players was baseball cards. I went to the card shop and bought every card of his that I could find, and traded friends and enemies in attempt to get my hands on his every card.
Then I got it, the card that had the biggest impact on my young life, the 1989 Upper Deck Carlton Fisk, card #609. For those that don’t have this card in-hand, it shows Fisk with his helmet off, towering over home plate, facemask off, waiting on a throw from the cutoff man. I memorized this card. I became this card.
So there I was, top of the 3rd inning, a runner on third. The batter was in the box and cracks a ball to right field. I immediately become Carlton Fisk. My facemask goes flying off, I straddle home plate and glare out to right field. And I don’t move.
As the runner on third gets close, he goes into a slide, but it’s too late, we are going to collide. I’m not worried; I’m much bigger and I know this is how Fisk would handle it. When we collide I push my glove into his body to keep him from getting to the plate, and he doesn’t. I have done my job and Carlton Fisk proud.
It is then that the coach, players, and parents of the opposing team begin to scream at the umpire and me. The ump grabs me by the shoulder and is trying to talk to me, but I won’t have any of it. Then my coach comes out, as does the opposing coach. The runner is crying, walking back to the dugout, and I see his mom come down from the stands.
A few seconds later, the other runner crosses home plate. He was jogging slowly; even young kids know that you don’t have to run fast when you hit a homerun. Yes, I blocked home plate on a home run. I was so determined to mimic Carlton Fisk that I didn’t pay attention to the fact that the ball went over the fence. No throw ever came to me, but I was still going to stop the runner before he scored.
I didn’t play catcher after that. My coach moved me back to first, although I am sure some of the parents would have rather seen me removed from the team. My dad wasn’t mad, he just laughed.
I still have that card, and Carlton Fisk is still my favorite player. And to this day, whenever someone mentions 1989 Upper Deck baseball cards, I don’t think of Ken Griffey Jr. I think of how I got thrown out of a little league game waiting on a throw that would never get to home.