I was very fortunate to be able to add a great autographed baseball to my collection - Paul O'Neill!
I hated it when O'Neill and the Reds swept the Athletics in 1990. I was a huge fan of the Bash Brothers, Dave Stewart, Henderson and The Eck back then, so the National League's domination wasn't what I was hoping for.
In November of 1992, the Reds sent Paul to the Bombers in exchange for Roberto Kelly. He displaced Donnie Baseball as the #3 hitter and began contributing right away. He was having a fine season (as many of the Yanks were) in '94 when a strike ended the season, batting over .350 with 20+ HRs and 80+ RBI in only 103 games. The Yankees were 6.5 games ahead in the East when it all ended that season...dammit.
He'd go on to be a big part of the Dynasty and their four titles from 1996 through 2000. He went tot he All-Star game four times as a Yank and brought home the batting title during that shortened season in 1994. His send-off in Yankee Stadium at the end of Game 5 of the 2001 Series was something I'll never forget and his hard work in pinstripes over the years earned him the "Warrior" label from 'ol George.
So this ball is pretty sharp, right? I have a great friend who dated a very nice young lady a couple years back...her family happened to be good friends with the O'Neills. Knowing I was a Yankees fan, my buddy couldn't wait to tell me about the connection. And in return, I couldn't wait to ask him if he thought his girlfriend might be able to get a ROMLB into the Warrior's (or "Uncle Paul" as she knew him) hands on my behalf.
No shame in my game, I suppose. Never hurts to ask, though, and as luck would have it - he was happy to oblige me, she was happy to oblige him and Uncle Paul was happy to oblige her.
Job changes kept us apart for a couple of years and my friend's romance with the young lady from Ohio didn't last either. The timing was precarious but in the end, he left town to begin a new career in Chicago with this O'Neill baseball stuffed somewhere in his belongings. We joked about it from time to time, bantering back and forth in emails, texts and messages through our fantasy baseball league.
"Someday I'll get this baseball to you, my friend."
That day came last fall when the stars aligned for us to rendezvous in South Bend for a Notre Dame football game. Picking me up from O'Hare, we made our way into town for a festive reunion with other friends, old and new.
"Hey man, check out the glove compartment! Got something for you in there."
Good friends and baseball - it doesn't get any better than that! Mr. O'Neill was even kind enough to add the personal inscription, a real treat that I always enjoy.
A big heart-felt thank you to my good friend for going above and beyond the call of duty. Grateful for your time as well, Mr. O'Neill. To the young woman who connected us all - fare thee well, madame. You will always be a part of this story.
Welcome to my Yankees' Collection, Warrior!
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend, everybody -