There he stood, standing on a street corner, waiting for a taxi — or perhaps a limo; that would be more of his style — to roll up to the curb and take him away.
There I stood, just feet away, looking at him; knowing full well who he was yet unable to bring to myself to say a single thing.
For the first time in my life, I was speechless.
Reggie Jackson — Mr. October — was standing there just feet from me and I couldn’t say a thing.
It was November 11, 1988, and Reggie and I had just exited the Wang Center in Boston where we had both attended “An Evening with 9, and Friends” — a charity hosted by the greatest hitter who ever lived, Ted Williams, benefiting the Jimmy Fund.
My boss back in those days was Bud Leavitt, executive sports editor of the Bangor Daily News and a long-time friend and fishing buddy of Ted Williams, and Bud had invited me to attend the event, hooked me up with a ticket and a chance to meet Ted after the show.
Needless to say, the lifelong Boston Red Sox fan in me jumped at the chance.
Funny thing about the Wang Center, though. When you walk inside there are two places you can go. Down to your seat, or up to seat.
I was seated in the upper-section and enjoyed the night immensely. It featured a variety of guests that was stunning and awe-inspiring.
As Ira Berkow wrote in the New York Times, “The friends of Williams, introduced one by one and ‘interviewed’ by David Hartman on a stage set like a fishing cabin, included former teammates like Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr, rivals like Joe DiMaggio and Bob Feller; Tommy Lasorda and Reggie Jackson; John Glenn, who was Williams’s squadron commander as a fighter pilot in the war in Korea; Tip O’Neill, the former Speaker of the House from Boston; Bud Leavitt, a Maine sportswriter and longtime fishing pal of Williams, and Stephen King, the writer and a New Englander, who represented baseball fandom and Williams fandom.”
One of my favorite moments of the night was Lasorda trying to convince the crowd that Williams wouldn’t be able to .280 if he played in the present day. Of course, the punch line was Williams was “70 years old” in 1988.
When the night finally ended — which is when Bud told me come down to the stage to meet up with him and Ted — I headed forward a life-long dream.
That path, however, is never as easy as you might seem and I quickly find out that when you’re walking down to the Wang Center after a show half the crowd is walking up to leave.
In other words, I swimming against the tide.
It felt like five innings had passed when I finally reached the stage and found John Henry Williams, Ted’s son and a former suitor of a good friend of mine’s sister. We spoke briefly and when I asked where his dad and Bud had gone, he pointed to the far end of the stage.
With the crowd no clear, I made a bee-line toward that area of the stage, running into former Red Sox Johnny Pesky (I found him to be rather stand-offish and rather jerky, despite his reputation of being beloved and super fan friendly) and Rico Petrocelli, whom I spoke with briefly.
My chance to meet Ted Williams, however, had slipped out the backdoor — gone forever. Six years later, Bud Leavitt — the fan who gave me my start in journalism when I was only 18 years old — died of cancer. Fourteen years after that, Ted would be gone, too.
As I walked out of the Wang Center that night, I was disappointed. My chance at meeting a true piece of history slipped from my grasp.
I stepped out into the Boston night air, walking onto the sidewalk adjacent to Tremont Street. My brother-in-law at the time was supposed to be picking me up and as I waited, I looked to the corner and that’s when I saw him standing there.
Reggie Jackson. Like me, he was waiting for his ride.
I wanted to say hello, introduce myself, talk about Ted and baseball. Sure, he was once a member of the New York Yankees, but he was baseball royalty.
I didn’t move. I just looked at him and said to myself, “Holy shit, that’s Reggie Jackson.”
I’ve interviewed plenty of Major League Baseball players over the years. NFL players. NBA players. Olympic Gold Medalists. Twice I’ve had the honor of being in the presence of the United States of America and I’ve shaken hands and talked to Al Gore when he was Vice President.
Only one person has ever left me speechless.
This ghost bounced up from my past this morning when I read an Associated Press story that Reggie went ballistic on a fan in Cooperstown, dropping some foul language after being asked for an autograph in a restaurant.
It made me think, What if I had struck up the nerve to speak to Reggie that night in Boston, 26 years ago?
Stars as bright as that shine bright under the spotlight, but outside of their given stages they can be downright curmudgeonly or straight-up assholes.
A fan in Cooperstown — who might have deserved such treatment, according to the AP report — found out by hard way.
Not me, though?
I was left speechless once in my life.
The night I saw Reggie Jackson standing on a street corner in Boston, Mass.
Maybe fate had me on the right side of silence that night. Or, maybe not.
I’ll never know.