When I was about seven years old, I turned on the TV and I discovered sports. I watched all the sports. Tennis enthralled me. Golf held me enraptured. Hockey made me wet my pants, it was so cool (a lot of things made me wet my pants, I just wet my pants a lot). Football and basketball thrilled me. But I loved baseball best. Something about the way every third player was chunky, about how they spit their snuff all over the dugout.
After a few months of watching baseball, I decided my favorite team was the Cubs. I was in rural Oregon, so it wasn't a geography thing. It was because my favorite player was on the Cubs. My favorite player was Andre Dawson. He may seem like kind of a strange favorite player for a seven year old kid. But not if you consider that in 1987 Andre Dawson was busy leading the majors in home runs. See, little kids are too young to get cutesy and ironic with their idols. No seven year old kid thinks, "Everybody likes Darryl Strawberry. He's so mainstream. I'm going to like Harold Reynolds, because he hit .275 with 1 homer this season, and he plays for the Mariners, and they have an upside down pitchfork for their logo; no one else will think to like him, so I'll be unique and cool." No seven year old kid thinks that.
So I liked Andre Dawson. Except 1987 was kind of an anomaly in his career, in terms of power statistics. But what I lacked in creativity for choosing a favorite player and team, I made up for in sheer loyalty. Once Dawson was my man, he was my man for forever. That sounds sort of creepy, but you know what I mean. And I followed Andre and the Cubs since I was seven.
So, the Cubs just won the World Series, blah blah blah. There are forty billion articles about that. I'm not going to write another. It was awesome for long-time Cub fans like me, who cried all alone after the Giants beat the Cubs in the 1989 NLCS and who may or may not have slapped a baby in frustration after the Cubs' 2003 playoff implosion and who seriously thought about unfriending people on Facebook who rooted for teams besides the Cubs during the 2015 playoffs. This year I faithfully watched all season, and settled down to watch game 7 of the World Series even though we were on a family vacation on an island off the coast of Belize. During the eighth inning, as the Indians were storming back from a 3-run deficit, the power went out. On the whole island. Everything just went black. And that was it. No wifi, and cell data didn't work because the roaming signal wasn't strong enough out there. So I didn't get to watch the end of game 7. I just sat there in disbelief in the dark while the kids cried because they were scared of crocodiles in the dark. And I thought, maybe this is fitting -- I am a hard-luck fan of a hard-luck team. And then, when the power came back on the next morning about 5 am and I learned the Cubs had won, I realized I was an even bigger loser than the Cubs, since I'd sat there like a schmuck for a couple hours hoping the power would come back on, and they had, you know, won the World Series.
But this post isn't about the Cubs winning the World Series. It's about how awesome my favorite baseball player is. Andre Dawson is not only a Hall of Famer, he is one of the greatest human beings on the planet.
Case in point: in 1989 I spent all my money on baseball cards, and I had a subscription to Beckett Baseball Monthly, a magazine with no purpose whatsoever apart from telling me that my entire baseball card collection was worth $12. But one month the magazine ran an article explaining how to get an autograph from awesome baseball players. A light bulb went off in my head: I was going to get Andre Dawson's autograph. The article tried to manage little boys' expectations, noting that a lot of players were too busy to respond to autograph requests, but that only applied to Jose Canseco, who never actually read autograph requests because he either rolled them up and smoked them or else soaked them in lemon juice until they dissolved and then injected them directly into his biceps with a syringe to enhance his performance.
But I was convinced my man Andre would respond. So, per the Beckett article instructions, I hand-wrote a note and put a blank 3x5 note card in an envelope, and sent it to the Cubs' general offices. The note said something like, "Dear Mr. Dawson, my name is Abu Halen and I live in Oregon and I like baseball. I play Little League baseball and my batting stance is just like yours, but I strike out more than you. I strike out a lot, actually, probably because I'm near-sided [note: I now know it's near-sighted, but I was sort of stupid when I was 10]. But I also hit a home run against McDonald's. You are my favorite baseball player and the Cubs are my favorite team. I have your rookie card, even though it's only worth $6.50. If you would please hit 50 or more home runs for the next 5 seasons, it would help me go to college. I would also appreciate very much if you could autograph the sad yellow index card I put in the envelope. P.S. -- you're way better than Kevin Mitchell, no one even ever heard of him before this year, he's probably juicing." The note wasn't just like that, but kind of.
And the next part of the story is why Andre Dawson should be everyone's favorite player -- nay, favorite person -- in the whole world. A few months later, I got a big box in the mail, with the return address of the Cubs' general offices. I excitedly opened it. And inside was... a dead, bloody, headless rooster. Just kidding!!!!
Here's what was really inside. First I pulled out my sad, yellow 3x5 index card, which Dawson had autographed. But he didn't stop here. He had autographed a 1989 Donruss baseball card of himself, placed it in a nice, hard card-protector, and sent that too. And finally, he autographed a really nice 8x11 photo of himself in mid-swing, framed it in an expensive wooden frame, and put that in the box as well. I couldn't believe it. I felt like the most special Cubs fan in the entire universe. I probably felt like the most special little boy in the whole universe, period. I floated around for a solid six months after getting that package, because Andre Dawson clearly liked me. I was friends with Andre Dawson.
I ordered a back copy of a 1987 issue of Beckett with Dawson on the cover and taped the autographed index card to the lower-right corner of the cover. And I set that prominently on the desk in my bedroom, along with the signed baseball card and the framed photo, propped up against my mirror. And those treasures graced my desk until I left home for college, years later.
I was watching when Dawson collected his 2,500th hit and hit is 400th home run. I was watching at night from across the street with binoculars when he let his dog out to go to the bathroom. Just kidding!!! I didn't have any binoculars.
In all seriousness though, the guy is still is my favorite player, in any sport. Not just because he was good at baseball, but because he's good.