Friday, April 5, 2013

No. 426 – Badge

Performer: Eric Clapton
Songwriters: Eric Clapton, George Harrison
Original Release: Goodbye (Cream)
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: 24 Nights, 1991

For Christmas 1991, my big present was Crossroads, the Eric Clapton album that really got the box set fad rolling. Scott got CSN, which—all things considered—was the better present.

Nevertheless, getting Crossroads touched off a brief period where I listened to Clapton quite a bit. Clapton always has run hot and cold with me. For the most part, I like whenever he was part of a group dynamic—Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos—but not so much his solo stuff—and certainly nothing in the last quarter-century.

I got 24 Nights during that time, and that version of this song just jumped off the disc. Years later, Debbie and I would debate it. She preferred the original version with the bass in the opener, but I loved the jauntiness of Clapton’s guitar and the piano in this version.

Anyway, my buddy Dave just turned 49—like I said, all my friends my age are older than I am. (If he did a blog like this—and he’s not—he’d be on song No. 363.) So, given Dave’s birthday and that it fits the timeframe—and that I don’t have anything better to talk about with this song—I thought I’d tell a great story about Dave that happened during this brief time I was really into Clapton.

Early in the 1992 baseball season, Dave, John, John’s girlfriend (soon to be his wife) and I went to a Tigers game to see them play the White Sox. The Sox were the second-favorite team for both me and Dave, so we donned White Sox apparel. I wore a jersey and cap in the current style, and Dave sported a Sox jersey and cap from the 1980s, so, as he said, he would show he wasn’t a Johnny-come-lately. Any ham-and-egger might wear the hot, black current uniform … present company excluded. Of course.

The Tigers during this time were terrible, so Tiger Stadium was empty most of the time. As was typical, we bought cheap seats in the upper reaches of the lower bowl down the right-field line and then sat wherever we wanted, which was much lower and closer to home plate.

By the seventh inning, we were in the box seats. John and I hung back a bit, but Dave and John’s girlfriend went down right behind the White Sox dugout. When the Sox came out of the dugout to go out on the field, Dave particularly cheered for Frank Thomas—my favorite player. Yay, Frank!

Before the bottom of the ninth, Dave did it again, and this time, Frank (we always referred to him by his first name) turned around and gave him a quick wave. Dave’s eyes lit up. Woah, Frank’s cool! By this time, John and I had moved down to where Dave and John’s girlfriend sat for the final half-inning.

When the game ended—another Tigers loss—a Sox contingency had gathered behind the dugout to root their team off the field. Dave again called out to Frank. Frank took one look and threw the ball—the final-out game ball—right to Dave, which Dave reflexively caught in the glove he brought (as did I) to the park in case of foul balls.

Dave turned to me white as a sheet—his eyes ablaze, his mouth agape. I still can hear what he said clear as a bell. “Frank threw me the ball. He’s a GOD!”

A kid asked to see the ball, meaning, could he have it. Dave responded with the only logical answer to such an absurd request: No way. Dave and that ball were like a politician and his campaign-donating lobbyists—inseparable. (He at least let me look at it—but not touch it, like Nigel Tufnel’s prized guitar that still had the ol’ tagger on it—much later.)

The ball became forever known as The Frank Ball. It resides in a place of honor in Dave’s Baseball Room, and the event itself was immortalized, for the first time, in a short story I wrote on the occasion of the birth of Dave’s first child later that year.

It was a story about a little boy forever falling in love with baseball, and I suppose that night in Detroit 21 years ago, Dave and I wore our similar childlike love like a badge.

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