Tyler and TJ took positions on either side of Noel, as he turned the tiny screwdriver with his fingers. With each rotation, each groove exposed, and every subtle movement of the wooden base holding the trophy’s bottom together, the anticipation grew. With the case tipped upside down in Noel’s left hand, the final turn was made and the minuscule screw, magnetized to the tiny screwdriver, was free of the wooden base, and Noel held it up in front of him like a giant marlin that was caught in a fishing contest. He handed the screwdriver to Tyler with the tiny screw dangling from the tip. Tyler adeptly put both in his sweatshirt pouch and then refocused his eyes on the now unlocked wooden base of the signed baseball trophy. “If what I think is still in here is here, holy cow.” Noel took a deep inhale, then exhaled as he removed the bottom of the trophy and handed it to TJ.
One by one, Noel began to remove items that were once lost and now were found. “The base,” started Noel, “was the perfect hiding spot for small and very valuable items to me. TJ when I was your age, I was a big time fan of spy novels and spy movies. These fictional spies used to hide valuables in odd places, then retrieve them after missions.” Noel showed TJ a ticket stub. “This is a ticket stub to a Pawtucket Red Sox game I went to in elementary school. Mark Fidrych pitched a one hitter and I missed the school bus ride home, on purpose. My teacher, Mrs. Ventrone gathered everyone to depart McCoy at the end of the 7th inning. The PawSox were up 10-0 and she didn’t see any point in staying until the end. I hid in the bathroom while my friends covered for me. I watched the final 6 outs behind home plate, next to a scout from the New York Mets. It was the most incredible game view and I got to see how fast the pitchers really were. When the game was over, I had to wait in the Pawtucket Fire Station next to the stadium for my mom to arrive. Let’s just say for time’s sake, she was not too happy with me.” Tyler started to laugh, thinking that he would probably have done something similar, but then stopped quickly enough to play Dad. “TJ, you must never do that at a school event, understood?” And he and Noel nodded heads in sarcastic agreement.
Tyler and TJ let Noel run the show, like designating a parent to give out gifts on Christmas morning. “Oh wow, this card is really special. Wilma Briggs was my brother’s teacher at Wickford Elementary School. She was also a professional baseball player from 1948-1954 and is a Rhode Island baseball legend. And this card is Billy Almon. He was the #1 player drafted in the Major League’s draft in 1974. He played at Brown University before being selected by the San Diego Padres. TJ can you imagine living in Rhode Island, playing baseball, getting drafted by a big league team, then moving to California? Wow, what an accomplishment.” TJ was so focused and awestruck by these discoveries that he barely reacted to Noel’s question. “Sure, wow, yeah, that must have been. What is that ticket for?”
Noel removed a folded ticket and opened it up to read the slightly faded print. “Admit One, Los Angeles Dodgers vs San Francisco Giants. May 11, 1963.” Noel stopped for a moment, as a tear reached the corner of his eye. With the trophy case in his left hand and the ticket in his right, Noel began to walk away from Tyler and TJ. “Give him a second,” Tyler cautioned TJ as they watched Noel take 5 steps then spin around and walk back to his original spot. “This ticket was given to me by my baseball mentor, Al Southwick. Al was so instrumental in my sports life as a kid in North Kingstown. I play 20 sports, whatever season it was, I played it. And Al ran the Recreation Department so we got to know each other very well. Myself and a few baseball players used to work for Al in the summers and mow lawns. One late afternoon, when we were finished mowing in his neighborhood, Al invited us to check out his baseball cards and sports memorabilia collection. He was a fountain of knowledge and his memory for sports events was incredible. I remember, clear as day, asking Al about this very ticket stub. He took it out of his photo album and handed it to me to read and observe. Then, proceeded to tell me and my friends about the game, how he was living in California at the time, the part time job he had to make enough money to buy his ticket, the weather conditions, the score, the no-hitter, the matchup between two of the game’s all time greats – Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal. Koufax threw a no-hitter at this very game. Despite being a NY Yankee fan, Al had a great appreciation for the greats, like Koufax, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ted Williams. He let me keep this ticket after handing it to me. I was forever grateful.”
Tyler again put his hand on Noel’s shoulder. “That is an amazing story. What an icon Al was here in North Kingstown. My wife and I have met so many families that just loved him to pieces.” Noel nodded and handed the ticket stub to TJ, so he could read the print himself. “Al was a once in a generation talent and he will never be replaced nor duplicated. His dedication to the town was absolutely incredible and unselfish and kind beyond words. I hope the town of North Kingstown builds a statue or a stadium or does something significant to honor him someday soon.” “What’s that flower?” asked TJ pointing to a four leaf clover that was laminated. “That flower TJ was given to me by a cute girl after the game at which I hit this grand slam. She was dating the pitcher I hit it off of. After the game, she met me outside the dugout and gave it to me. I felt like a celebrity. I went home and had my mom press it and laminate it for me. This went in the case as soon as it was ready.” Tyler asked, “did you guys date or meet up in school later that year?” Noel shook his head no. “A few days after the game, we met in Wickford and had hot dogs and grape sodas sitting on a park bench overlooking the harbor. We were so nervous, we barely spoke. I was too shy to call her after that first date. I found out on the first day of school in September that she and her family had moved to Texas. I never saw her again after that date.”
Tyler took a small break from the discovery presentation and looked around Signal Rock. It was empty and quiet and peaceful with just a slight breeze blowing. The sun was beaming in the sky and Tyler was just soaking up every second of this meet and greet with Noel. He looked down at his son, who was grinning from ear to ear listening to Noel’s incredible stories. It was a really proud moment in his life. “And this coin was given to me by my Uncle Johnny. He, along with my mother’s family, grew up in Wareham, Massachusetts. They were big, big fans of John F. Kennedy – being from Massachusetts, Irish Catholic, etc. etc. This is a John F. Kennedy silver half dollar that my uncle gave to me for my 11th birthday. He flipped it to me and said ‘this might pay for college someday.’ I laughed in spite of his remarks because it is only worth 50 cents. It has my birth year, 1972” Noel flipped the coin in the air towards TJ and said “check it out dude,” at which point TJ snagged it out of the air and replied “got it.” Noel took a deep breath and exhaled. “Now” muttered Noel to himself “that leaves one last item to reveal.”
To be continued….
The RIBBE is The Rhode Island Baseball Experience. It is promoting the game of baseball here in the great state of Rhode Island for the entire baseball world to see. The RIBBE is positive stories, photos, videos, and responsible social media posts. The RIBBE is an information resource for families looking for an AAU team or a summer camp or a great place to buy a first baseman’s mitt. The RIBBE is a network of coaches, tournament directors, parents, leagues, and baseball junkies whose passion of the game of baseball is unquestioned. I believe that providing expert analysis, information and directions to ballfields, and coaching advice from some of the top RI baseball minds will help promote the game of baseball here in RI to a whole new level.