Happy Reds birthday, Chris Sabo!
January 19, 1962
1988 Rookie of the Year. 1990 World Champion. Three-time All-Star. Protective eyewear fashion trendsetter. Buzzcut aficionado. Spuds MacKenzie doppelgänger. Chris Sabo was all of these things, but so much more to a certain sixth-grade boy in 1988.
Mrs. Gracey’s assignment was to interview someone they really admired. Most of the kids selected a parent or grandparent, and while I loved my parents and grandparents very much, I was absolutely obsessed with baseball at the time. When I arrived home, I wrote down a handful of questions that I wanted to ask my favorite baseball player, Chris Sabo. I called the Reds’ general offices phone number and left my name, number, and reason for my call. The receptionist sweetly took my information and said she would deliver my message. I think my mom doubted the receptionist, and while she was not condescending at all, she encouraged me to develop a backup plan because Sabo was a professional baseball player and he certainly had more important things to do than talk to a sixth-grade kid on the phone. I shrugged it off, grabbed my basketball, and headed outside to shoot some hoops.
About a half hour later, my mother started tapping on the kitchen window to get my attention. I had a phone call. I came inside, sweaty and out of breath, and she whispered, “It’s Chris Sabo.” I smiled, grabbed my pen and paper, and answered the phone. I told him I was nervous; I had never spoken to an actual baseball player before! There was a part of my brain that told me there was no way this could actually happen, but here I was…talking to the rookie third baseman for the Reds! He told me that I shouldn’t be nervous; he was just a regular guy like me. And he was…he drove a Ford Escort instead of a Lamborghini (which is what I would have driven if I was a pro athlete in the 1980s), and he grew up rooting for his hometown team, the Detroit Tigers. His favorite player as a kid was Al Kaline.
I don’t remember the rest of the interview now, but I remember the feeling. Sabo even arranged for tickets to be left at will call for me a few weeks after the phone call. My dad and I sat in the blue seats (which were the really goods seats in Riverfront Stadium), behind home plate with the players’ wives. I even snapped a photograph of my favorite player in the on-deck circle.
I met Sabo in person later that year at a drug store (possibly Rink’s) in Bellevue, Kentucky, as he signed autographs for hundreds (maybe thousands) of fans; the line was out the door. He smiled, shook my hand, and signed a baseball and baseball card, but didn’t really have time for conversation. I have seen him a few times since then, and he claims to remember speaking to me when I was in sixth grade. Whether he actually does or not, it was nice to hear, and allowed me to relive that moment of pure joy that I experienced in 1988 again.