Sitting around waiting for the Commerce Comet to reappear
For 35 years, it traveled with me everywhere, like Butch's gold watch in "Pulp Fiction."
If I needed to see it, hold it, toss it toward the ceiling and catch it again, I could, at a moment's notice. It sits inside a cheap plastic container, the contents so much more valuable than its lifelong home. In a manner of seconds, I can pop off the plastic top, look at it in wonder, then set it aside again, comfortable in the knowledge that no matter how much I have lost along the way, this is still with me.
On my 18th birthday, my sister surprised me with this prized possession. She knew how much it would mean to me and even asked about it during a recent visit to our island chain. I brought it out and handed it to her carefully as we bored my wife with the story she had heard us tell many times before.
"The only reason you ever got that baseball was because of my ex-husband," my sister reminded me. "His grandmother sold Mickey his house in Dallas. You wouldn't have that thing if it weren't for them."
Best thing that came out of that marriage, I thought to myself, before saying:
"It's all I have left from that place in time."
THE NEXT DAY I took it back to work with me and stuck it in my bottom desk drawer, always there in case I need it. This baseball with the autograph on it, personally inscribed, "To Paul, Best Wishes, Mickey Mantle" looks the same as it did when I first took it to college.
Nearly everyone who knew me for more than 5 minutes was well aware of my Mickey Mantle baseball. It sat on my desk at school for two years in a dorm and another two at a house on Poplar Street in College Station, Texas.
It went from there to Galveston and then San Angelo to Las Vegas and then here to Honolulu and Kaaawa for nearly 18 years, safe as the gold in Ft. Knox, kept no matter what else was let go or thrown away.
Last Sunday night, I pulled the baseball signed by my childhood hero out of the drawer, showed it to one of our clerks, for the first time, before preparing it for the journey home. As usual, the plastic top came off, allowing the baseball to roll carelessly across the passenger seat of my car as I pulled on to H-1.
Driving 50 on Honolulu's main road is not a good time to retrieve a wayward baseball. And anyway, it wasn't going anywhere, so I promptly forgot all about it.
DECIDING TO TAKE the bus on Monday so my wife could have the car, I kept trying to remember to tell her something, but couldn't figure out for the life of me what it was. Only when I awoke on Tuesday morning, my daughter's 20th birthday, did I recall what I had forgot.
"Did you get the baseball off the front seat?" I asked my wife.
If I could accurately depict how I felt at that moment, I'd be a much better writer than I am. Put it this way: The pit in my stomach was as empty as Carlsbad Caverns after the bats leave for the night. I raced downstairs, flashlight in hand to peer under the seats and began a desperate search that turned up an umbrella, an empty garbage bag, two slippers that didn't match, a dog leash, a French fry that looked like it belonged to Wendy's and a glass I'd been looking for, but wasn't all that happy to find.
OK. OK. Don't panic, Bubba. Think back. What did you do Sunday night? On the way from work you stopped at 7-Eleven, bought two small bottles of wine, jumped in the car and then came home. You unlocked the car door, so it wasn't stolen. Did you stick it in the bag and bring it upstairs? Did you throw it away by accident after stowing away the wine?
"Did the trash man come?" I asked my wife after racing back up the stairs, two at a time.
"Picked up awhile ago, why?"
I sat down next to a sack of sadness that I couldn't comprehend.
"I think I threw away my Mickey Mantle baseball." I don't remember what she said actually. I was already lost on some stretch of Mickey Mantle memories that flickered by like a silent film.
We spent the day celebrating my daughter's birthday -- "Don't you say a word about it." -- but Wednesday was 24 hours of looking anywhere and everywhere for something that was in a landfill, simple as that.
"Do you think somebody stole it while you had the car at work? I could call around to the pawnshops to see if it shows up." My wife looked at me with only a smattering of pity.
"There was no baseball in the car."
I TOOK THE BUS to work again on Thursday (my Monday) with a hollow feeling in my soul. The first thing I did was open my bottom drawer and hoped against hope that somehow it would still be there resting comfortably inside its broken home -- autograph up -- but of course, no such luck.
I tried to forget about it, not linger on a part of me that was lost forever, but it didn't really work. Near the end of my shift, my wife called to see how I was doing. She didn't understand its meaning, how it connected me to a time in 1964 when my parents took me to a Yankees game to see Mickey Mantle in person for the one and only time. I might have been more excited about my wedding or the days my children were born, but my folks have a picture of me looking out on the field at Yankee Stadium as Mickey played a game of catch that might convince the jury otherwise on cross examination.
"I don't expect you to understand it," I said to my wife.
"You don't, huh? Well, I found it, you idiot. It rolled off the kitchen counter and landed behind the couch."
The joy I felt at that moment left me speechless, but my wife easily filled the void.
"Make sure you get a couple of those wines on the way home."
Sports Editor Paul Arnett
has been covering sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1990. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org