Alvin Dark died the other day, and with his passing went a piece of my youth.
When he died Nov. 13 at age 92, his obituary noted that he had been one of the oldest living major leaguers. How he managed two teams to the World Series. And how he was the shortstop and team captain for the great New York Baseball Giants teams of the 1950s.
His career as a Chicago Cubs' third baseman, however, was barely a footnote in any of the obituary coverage. Understandably so since he was a grizzled veteran by then, filling a spot that was soon to be occupied by Ron Santo, a man whose name would become synonymous with the Cubs and third base in Chicago.
It was Dark, however, who became my first real baseball idol.
I wasn't even 10 years old, but already I was being pegged as a third baseman by my dad and grandfather, both of whom had played semi-pro baseball (with dad's claim to fame being a loud foul ball off the immortal Satchel Paige during an Air Force base exhibition game).
So third base/pitcher became my baseball quest. Strong arm, sturdy chest, quick first step and no range. You get the picture. A hockey goalie without pads.
Regardless, I absorbed everything I could about playing the hot corner.
And when the Cubs acquired Alvin Dark, my dad urged me -- no, told me -- to watch his every move.
Watch how he makes ready at the position before each pitch. Look at how he holds his glove. How he's moving forward or to the right or left even before contact. How he smooths the dirt with his cleats and tosses stray pebbles to the side. How he parts his hair ... OK, I made that last one up, but you get the picture.
Soon I began to walk like Alvin Dark. Stand like Alvin Dark. Spit like Alvin Dark. Even scratch like Alvin Dark.
Then one summer day we got to go to Wrigley Field. It was an especially bleak period for the Cubs back then (insert joke here) as the Bernsees and another 12,000 fans elbowed their way into the Friendly Confines that day. The poor attendance, however, offered me a chance to get close to the dugout.
And when I spotted Alvin Dark warming up, playing catch with a teammate, I was mesmerized.
Then I started hollering for my idol to sign my scorecard. I incessantly yelled "Alvin!" even louder than the Chipmunks in their old Christmas song.
Of course, he ignored every scream. Every longing gaze. Every plea for him to sign.
Until a poor throw shorthopped him and careened over by the dugout wall where I was standing now in silence.
Dark grabbed the scorecard and pen from my hand, scribbling something quickly before running off to join teammates in another pregame ritual.
Regaining my senses, I looked down at the cardboard memento, startled to see it read, "#!$%# off, kid."
Hightailing it back to my seat, my mother asked sweetly -- like something straight out of the mom's mouth on "A Christmas Story" -- did you get Alvin Dark's autograph?
I cradled that scoreboard against my chest.
"No, no, I didn't," I told her.
"Too bad," is all mom said.
Yeah, too bad ...