I wasn’t alone. Many of us knew about Bert Blyleven’s curve ball. He was pitching for the Cleveland Indians. We slipped past the senior citizen ticker takers towards the Indian’s dugout. It was on the third base side of County Stadium.
A sure bet way to get a player’s autograph is to offer him something unique to sign, something they haven’t seen before or something that strikes a cord in their personal lives. I had heard about fan who offered Bill “Spaceman” Lee a Betty Crocker Brownie box to sign. Worked like a charm flying high.
I only had a baseball and my mouth. I leaned over the waist-high red fence separating players from fans and poked my head into the Indian’s dugout. “Mr. Blyleven. Mr. Blyleven,” I yelled. “Excuse me, Mr. Blyleven. ”
Blyleven was seated on the opposite end of the dugout, but he heard me and apparently sent hand signals to his messenger-Neil Heaton another pitcher for the Indians. I must have been fixated on Blyleven because I never noticed Heaton inching closer to me.
“Son, excuse me, son, Heaton said. “Your shoelaces are on fire.” Sure enough. My shoelaces were on fire. I had been hot footed and at 11 years young, my initial reaction was embarrassment, but I soon learned that Bert Blyleven was more than the king of curve balls. He had also earned the nickname-Frying Dutchman because of his Dutch origins and habit of lighting players shoelaces on fire.
Blyleven eventually signed the ball and gave me a long look, right into my eyes. Good thing I was shy. He mighta burned my retinas too.
Blyleven may be the only player or pitcher to ever campaign his way into the baseball hall of fame and his efforts finally met with success in 2011 after 14 stints on the ballot.