“A Tribute To My Grandfather” By Mark Cooper aka ‘PSUGator02′
My 88-year-old grandfather, Norman E. Cooper, passed away Friday, December 16, 2011. Today I was looking through some signed baseballs — I needed to find one for a trade — and I came across something that I will forever cherish. On Saturday, March 23, 1996, I dragged my grandfather out of bed, hoping he would join me in a promotion organized by a local radio station. Ever want to hit on the field in a real MLB batting cage? Well, now was my chance. I knew that none of my friends would want to get up early enough so I would have to convince my grandmother to get grandpa to join me. I knew that I’d be able to sweet-talk her (for some reason she always sided with me). It wasn’t long before I was at their door.
Neither of us knew what we were in for. We arrived and were ushered toward the seats behind home plate, where we waited to enter the field through the home dugout. Somewhere there exists a picture of that day. I’ll never forget my grandfather, bald even then because of a bout with malaria during World War II, wearing that batting helmet that was a few sizes too small. He stepped into the batters’ box and watched as a few pitches passed him by. I’m going to guess and say that he probably made contact with four pitches out of 20. Not bad for a man who was 73 at the time. After he was through he looked around to see if he was, in fact, the oldest person there. When he was sure he was, he tried to convince a local sportswriter that a story about “The oldest man to hit a pitch today” might make for a great read in the next day’s paper. The writer got his name and phone number, but never did call him. Nonetheless, grandpa was so proud of his feat that he retold the story whenever he got the chance.
My grandpa is no longer with me. In his place, I have fond memories of attending St. Louis Cardinals’ games with him at the old Busch Stadium, of visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time in 1986, of him sneaking down to the stage to get a good picture as I was handed my diploma upon graduating from the University of Florida in 1994. I also have a baseball that he gave me that day in 1996 when he and I hit in the batting cages. I took one look at it a few minutes ago and I couldn’t stop crying.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a picture of the ball. On the sweetspot, he inscribed, “To Mark, My #1 fan, 3/23/96” and then on the panel he signed his name. The ball was actually used that day and may have even been one he hit. It now becomes my most cherished possession. He touched the lives of many people, especially mine.
Norman Cooper: 1/1 (Game-used ball) in black ink with “To Mark, My #1 fan, 3/23/96” inscribed on the sweetspot and his signature on the side panel