How I Became A Customer For Life

by Eric Samuels

Like a lot of kids, I developed a love for the game of baseball when I was 10 or 11 years old. In my case, this new interest was undoubtedly sparked by the arrival of the Montreal Expos, who made their major league debut at Jarry Park, in the North end of the city, not far from where I lived.

In retrospect, Jarry Park was not a great ballpark. In fact, it was not the city’s first nor second choice for a stadium (The city of Montreal’s incompetence regarding stadiums is an entirely different subject for another day!). That said, to an 11 year old kid, Jarry Park was heaven – I used to pay a buck for a seat in the bleachers. It was 2-weeks allowance, but worth every penny!

Now I didn’t get to go to a lot of games, but when I did, it was a pretty big deal, and it didn’t matter who The Expos were playing. I’d always get there early (really early), to watch warm-ups and batting practice. I never failed to wear my Expos cap, and always brought my baseball glove, dreaming that one day I would snag a foul ball and have the greatest souvenir in the world to show my buddies at school!

The one redeeming quality of Jarry Park, was its intimacy. The park had a capacity of just over 28,000, which is quite small by today’s standards (the average MLB park has over 44,000 seats) . But it was never designed for Major League Baseball, and very rarely full. So, I quickly learned that I could buy my $1 ticket and simply walk over to the premium box seats to stand behind the dugout and watch batting practice. Surprisingly often, I discovered that I could stay in an unoccupied box seat for the entire game!

I loved the pre-game warm-ups. As an aspiring ball player, watching the guys toss a ball back and forth, snag pop flies and then hit a few in the cage, was mesmerizing! Anytime one of the players came near the dugout, I tried to overcome my shyness and call them out by name, asking for an autograph on my glove or cap. Occasionally, I even found the nerve to ask for a baseball, if one of the players happened to be bringing a ball back to the dugout!

To me, the players were larger than life…..John Boccabella, Manny Mota, Bill Stoneman, and the guy who actually made it cool to have red hair (and I had a head full of it) – Rusty Staub!

That entire first season, I went to at least a dozen games. Always got there early to watch warm-ups from behind the Expos dugout and always stayed until the final out. Always had my Expos cap & glove, and always asked for autographs from the players during warm-up. But during all those games, not a single player ever stopped to sign my glove or hat. Not one. I figured it must have been me. I started to accept that I just didn’t matter to these guys, whom I had come to idolize. I asked less and less.

Then, on a perfect summer day in 1969, I had an experience that changed everything. The St. Louis Cardinals came to town. Although the 1969 Cardinals weren’t contenders, they had won the World Series twice in the past 5 years, and had several notable players on their roster – including pitcher Bob Gibson, who still holds the (modern day) major league record for earned run average; Lou Brock, one of the greatest base stealers of all time; and Joe Torre, a great player who would go onto become one of the greatest coaches in the game.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was that made me walk over to the opposition’s dugout that day in June, but there was definitely something about the Redbirds that intrigued me. More importantly, there seemed to be less and less reason to hang out by the Expos dugout. That afternoon, with little effort on my part, Lou Brock signed my cap, Joe Torre autographed my glove, and on his way back from the bullpen, Bob Gibson looked me straight in the eye and tossed a ball right into my mitt!

The Cards won 8-1 that day, but even before the first run was scored, I had become a fan for life. I bought a Cardinals cap as soon as I saved up enough allowance, and wore it faithfully, despite being harassed by kids at school, who couldn’t possibly understand why I didn’t root for the home town team!

I’ve been a St. Louis Cardinals fan for more than 40 years now. I’ve followed the team through some great times and many struggles. But it doesn’t matter, Bob Gibson looked me straight in the eye and tossed me a baseball. That’s how I became a customer for life!

  • Follow me on Twitter
  • Email Me
  • Call Me
  • Check me out on Facebook