Garnick: I am a Red Sox fanboy
Is baseball hothead David Price right? Are the millions of us who never pitched beyond Little League just a bunch of starstruck wannabes?
During the American League Divisional Series, the Tampa Bay Rays star lashed out at the media after giving up seven earned runs in seven innings. "Nice questions, nerds!" he hissed at reporters. Then Price got mean. On Twitter, he called Sports Illustrated scribe Tom Verducci a nerd who "wasn't even a water boy in high school." He stopped there, passing up the temptation to mock Verducci's prom date or how much he can bench press.
Price's snotty attitude exists for one reason. Many of my fellow baseball nuts DO think players are cooler than the rest of us. The fact is, no matter how successful we may be in our professional lives, many of us would instantly trade in our careers for a (your team here) uniform.
As my beloved Red Sox battle the Cardinals in the World Series this week, spotting my favorite players outside their natural habitat remains a thrill for me, even though I am old enough to be rookie Xander Bogaerts' dad. Still, I'll appear stoic and resist the urge to ask for a picture or autograph. My inner child is disappointed but my dignity is intact.
During a recent business trip to Tampa, my celebrity-seeking was put to the ultimate test. I was staying at the same hotel as the visiting Red Sox; my hunt began the moment I stepped off the plane:
Day One. 1:45 p.m. Tampa International Airport --My friend and I are wearing Sox shirts, prompting our shuttle driver to mention he just took "a bunch of players with beards" on a deep sea fishing trip. One of the beards, he says, used to play for the Rays, and he "couldn't stand up straight" when it was time to pick them up.
Jonny Gomes! I am sitting on the same sweaty seat as Jonny Gomes, the Sox party animal who pulls off the Army helmet look much better than Mike Dukakis. This is the guy who celebrates victory by punting beer cans to the crowd.
Day One. 2:30 p.m. Vinoy Renaissance Hotel -- We check in at the front desk and again our Sox shirts spark conversation. The clerk giddily tells us she once worked at an ice cream stand where she'd scooped for ex-Sox outfielder Josh Reddick. I am intrigued, explaining that Reddick is now a 30-home run guy whom the Sox never should have traded to the A's. A few minutes later, as we're walking past a seafood restaurant, an off-duty waitress rushes up to us. "You'll NEVER guess who I just saw!" she gushes.
It was slugger David Ortiz--not surprisingly, a fabulous tipper. He was my first guess because he is a larger-than-life caricature who can't hide behind sunglasses. I had been in Florida for only an hour and already three strangers felt compelled to share their Sox sightings with anyone pretending to care.
I do care. I care about Reddick's favorite ice cream flavor and whether Big Papi ordered the swordfish or sea bass. And now I want some sightings of my own. Being able to identify players in their civilian clothes, without the help of baseball cards, is an intoxicating game. So far, all I've got is footprints.
My hotel is the red carpet for Sox sightings, but also a forbidden zone. No Autographs/No Photography signs are posted everywhere to "protect the safety and privacy of all our resort guests."
Night One. 11:30 p.m. Hotel Lobby -- I spot a diminutive bearded guy briskly walking toward me. It's second baseman Dustin Pedroia, the 2008 AL MVP. "Hey, good game tonight!" I say. Dustin is wearing headphones and could have pretended to be absorbed by the music. But he turns back, stares at me with the same intensity he reserves for Justin Verlander, and says "Thanks." It was "thanks" with a period, not an exclamation point. But it was a long day and he certainly didn't lack any enthusiasm on the field. And then, just like in "Field of Dreams," he vanishes.
There's an inherent awkwardness in fan-player meetings for both parties. We feel like we "know" them and briefly suspend the reality that we're strangers. Only Ortiz and Pedroia don't have posters of us on their bedroom walls. If the opportunity existed for them to sit on the couch and watch a live video of us at work, they'd be bored.
The goal is to avoid becoming comedian Chris Farley's obsessed fanboy character from "Saturday Night Live." Farley meeting Paul McCartney:
Farley: You remember when you were with the Beatles?
McCartney: Yes. (Awkward Pause)
Farley: That was awesome!
Day Two. 2 p.m. Hotel Lobby -- Near the front desk's complimentary jellybean bar, I see the greatest Red Sox pitcher of all time, the retired Pedro Martinez, blankly staring in my direction. I give him a friendly nod, the kind guys silently exchange in the halls at work or at the gym. He doesn't pick up on the signal, so I don't bother to tell him that the jellybeans are free. Free! Then, just like a regular person, Pedro checks into his room.
I never saw Pedro again.
Rest assured, I don't need any self-esteem counseling about my failure to make the Major Leagues. I buy into the "Field of Dreams" Moonlight Graham message that there are far more important things in life than baseball.
But as I watch the World Series, forgive me if I temporarily transform into a Chris Farley fanboy. And if I'm lucky enough to score tickets, I know exactly what to yell to Dustin Pedroia during batting practice: "Hey Dusty, remember when we met late at night in that hotel lobby and I said, 'Great game!' and you said 'thanks'? That was awesome!"
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