Autographed ticket says it all

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Ever notice how some professional sports have lost their purity?

Athletes seem to care more about money, expensive and massive homes, luxurious cars and parties.

That “e” and “m” in team means nothing.

Yeah, I know some of you are going to argue.

But, here’s the basis for my rant.

Remember when Barry Bonds and Mark McGuire were chasing Roger Maris’ single-season home run record?

We know Bonds was on steroids.

And who’s to say McGuire — one-half of the Bash Brothers with Jose Canseco — didn’t juice up on occasion, either?

At the time, McGuire played in St. Louis.

I happened to see him in person during that magical summer when “61” became a household number and Major League Baseball fans scoured the newspaper boxscores each day to see if either Bonds or McGuire moved closer to the record.

I had never been to the “Show Me State.”

It was one vacation I’ve never forgotten.

I stayed with a good friend and one morning he dropped me off at Union Station. I toured the Budweiser building, gambled a little bit on a riverboat and even went up in the famed arch.

The most-memorable part, however, was Busch Stadium.

On the day I walked downtown, I passed the “will-call” window.

I looked at the schedule and noticed the Cardinals had a three-game home series with the Milwaukee Brewers. Out came the credit card and seconds later I had tickets for a matinee and two night games.

The concourse happened to be opened, so I walked to an open stairwell.

Sunlight beamed brightly on the freshly-mowed grass.

While I soaked in my second trip to a Major League Baseball park, I heard voices back on the concourse.

A door opened and out walked Mark McGuire.

The dude had humongous arms twice the size of one of my thighs. We spoke briefly and he signed one of my tickets.

Seconds later, a young boy and his dad hustled over for an autograph. They posed for a picture and instead of heading back into the locker room, McGuire hung out and talked with us.

Talk about genuine.

When asked, he talked about chasing the home run title and was extremely complimentary of Maris, one of the all-time greats who played the game with respect and a child-like demeanor.

The best part?

That came later in the evening.

A die-hard Atlanta Braves fan dressed in Cardinal gear on this night, I found my seat just behind the Brewers’ dugout.

During his first at-bat, McGuire sawed off a couple of pitches — including one that soared just above my head and landed two rows behind me.

His next at-bat was priceless.

McGuire swung at an outside pitch and hit homer No. 45 - to opposite field, which is the only time he did it that summer. Fireworks lit up Busch Stadium and a sellout crowd roared its approval.

I pinched myself.

Was this real?

Oh yeah, it was.

I still have the signed ticket to prove it.

Rudy Coggins is assistant editor of the Mount Olive Tribune. He can be reached at rcoggins@mountolivetribune.com.

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