On this, the 78th birthday of Rocky Colavito, permit me to reminisce on one of the great events of my childhood.
Like most kids in Cleveland in the late 50s and 1960s, I idolized Rocky Colavito, my favorite Indians player. I was only 3 when Frank Lane traded him to the Tigers for Harvey Kuenn at the beginning of the 1960 season, and I have vague memories of crying at his departure. Those “memories” are more likely an accumulation of hearing my dad and uncles and cousins griping for years about how it was the worst trade in the history of baseball. (To this day, I fervently believe it was the worst trade in the history of the sport, and there’s no dissuading me.)
In any event, Rocky returned to the Tribe a few years later to great joy in Cleveland and in our home on Erieview Road in Cleveland Heights. By this time I was in grade school and a full-fledged baseball fan whose sole goal in life was to play shortstop for the Tribe. I was also an avid baseball card collector.
In those days, Topps — the only maker then — released cards in series. The first series with about 120 cards came out around the time the teams were breaking camp from spring training and heading north. At 9 years old, I couldn’t wait for the new cards to arrive. I remember talking my mom into getting me a box of “wax packs” of cards to mark the start of the year.
In the first pack I opened, there was Sandy Koufax, card No. 100. That was a great start, but I really marked success by the number of Indians I got in each pack.
A few weeks later, we went to visit my maternal grandmother, who lived in a senior citizens’ apartment complex a few suburbs over in Mayfield Heights. (Cleveland, scooped out by a glacier even longer ago than the 1948 World Series championship, is big on “Heights.”) Any trip to a drugstore was a chance to see if I could cadge a few dimes out of Mom to buy a pack or two of cards, and little did I know what wonder awaited.
Turns out that the long-forgotten shop we visited that weekend stocked the Series 2 cards from Topps. And Rocky Colavito – the golden ticket of my fourth-grade dreams — was in Series 2 at No. 150.
I don’t remember the circumstances, but one of the cards I got that day was a Colavito.
This was 1966, so I couldn’t share my joy on Facebook or boast about it on Twitter. The news had to wait until the 10 a.m. recess bell released us from Mrs. Thelma Ward’s class at St. Margaret Mary School in South Euclid. Recess was a time to see who had added what cards, and I had Rocky.
Within a minute or two, while the girls skipped rope or did whatever they did on their half of playground, every boy in the school surrounded me hoping to get a look at the Colavito card.
For a skinny kid with no discernible athletic skills, this was the highlight of my young life. At 4 feet 3 inches tall or thereabouts, I was the big man on campus.
Five decades later, I still remember that cold and overcast spring day clearly, still feeling the crush of the crowd at my shoulders as everyone craned to get a look at “The Rock.”
For all this time, I’ve told the story in the context that getting the Colavito card was extra special because it came the spring that Rocky came back to the Tribe. But I looked it up tonight and that wasn’t the case. Colavito returned to Cleveland the year before, in 1965, when his Topps card had one of those hilarious rubouts of the logo on the cap of his prior team, the Kansas City Athletics. I never got that card. It was No. 380 and probably came out in the summer after school had let out.
That slight adjustment to the story notwithstanding, getting the Colavito card was one of the great moments of my boyhood and remains one of my most cherished memories.
Thanks, Rocky, and happy birthday.