Sports memories better than autographs

I have never been big on autographs.

Because of my job and a little bit of luck, I have been able to meet some famous sports figures over the years. I got a few autographs during those encounters, but I don’t know where most of them are anymore.

As a young boy, I got an autograph from Butte native Pat Ogrin on a small piece of notebook paper back when he played for the Washington Redskins.

I met Ogrin at my older brother’s game at the Northwest Little League field the summer after Ogrin and the Redskins won the Super Bowl. He was sitting outside a car on Caledonia Street, and he seemed to be enjoying the string of wide-eyed children streaming up to get a look at him.

Sadly, I have no idea where that autograph is today.

The same goes for my piece of small paper signed by speed skating legend Eric Heiden, who is in my mind the greatest Olympian of all time.

I have an autographed basketball of the 1992-93 University of Montana men’s basketball team given to me by my father-in-law about 10 years ago. The ball, which includes the signature of Butte High great Gary Kane, sits on my mantle by my Rob Johnson autographed Pacific Coast League baseball.

The Johnson ball came from my cousin Brittney in Oregon. She met Rob moments after his pitcher wouldn’t throw the pitches the catcher called, and the Tacoma Rainiers gave up four runs in the ninth to lose a game at Portland.

Rob, the former Butte Central Maroon and Butte Miner, was really mad and didn’t pay any attention to a young girl who was yelling his name — until she yelled she was from Butte.

Then Rob went over to Brittney and signed a few balls. One was signed “To: Billy Foley.”

The only other autograph I have displayed is an Evel Knievel poster signed to my daughter. It is one of the few Evel Knievel autographs actually signed by Evel himself.

As everyone from Butte knows, most Evel autographs were signed by Muzzy Faroni, which should actually increase their value.

I have some stuff signed by William “The Refrigerator” Perry and a picture autographed by former Chicago Bears lineman Revie Sorey around the house somewhere. Hopefully they’re by my signed Bryon Wilson poster, which is also signed by Brad Wilson. Somewhere I have an autographed book by the great Mike Royko, too.

For the most part, though, I usually never bother with autographs. Even when I interviewed Don Larsen — yes, the Don Larsen who threw a perfect game in the 1956 World Series — for a newspaper story, I never got anything signed for myself.

I did get to shake hands with Larsen, though. I also shook hands with Smokin’ Joe Frazier, and I didn’t ask for an autograph from the former heavyweight champion either.

When I shook hands with Ken Griffey, Jr., I never had a chance because Major League Baseball rules forbid autograph seeking from people with press credentials.

In 2009, Griffey made a return to the Seattle Mariners, and Paul Panisko, Pat Ryan, Blake Hempstead and I headed over to cover the event because Johnson was a catcher on the Mariners Opening Day lineup.

Rob had a locker closest to Griffey, and he had no room to change after the game because of the hoards of media members surrounding the future Hall of Famer.

The next day, Griffey didn’t talk to the Montana contingent as we talked with Rob, but he did notice we were there.

“You have reporters come all the way from Montana?” Griffey asked Johnson, who replied with a rare cocky, although clearly facetious smirk.

“Four,” Rob replied, holding up four fingers in Griffey’s direction to emphatically emphasize the point. “Four reporters came from Montana to cover me.”

Griffey had at least 40 reporters at his locker less than 24 hours earlier.

The next year, Paul, Blake, Joe Nowakowski and I went back for Opening Day, and Griffey remembered the Montana guys. This time, he actually talked to us — even after Blake made a crack about his age.

At one point Rob’s young son came into the locker room, and I started to play with him. As I was trying to get him to give me some knuckles, I saw Griffey’s hand head toward me.

Shocked, I turned and shook hands with Griffey as he said, “I’m outta here. Have a good trip back to Montana.”

Rob announced his retirement from baseball a few weeks ago. He caught for the Mariners, Padres, Mets and Cardinals before attempting to make it to the majors with the Padres as a pitcher this season.

That bid was ended when he suffered an elbow injury that will require Tommy John surgery.

After that, Rob started counting down his favorite memories of his baseball career. Seeing him gloat about four reporters is my favorite.

It’s slightly ahead of seeing Rob hit three doubles — including the game-winning, two-run triple in the 11th inning — against my Red Sox in Fenway Park on July 3, 2009. The next morning I got a text message from Rob’s father to let me know the catcher says hi.

I’ll take that over an autograph any day.

—Bill Foley, who has been waiting for years to get another chance to get a Pat Ogrin autograph, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.



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