Waiting For A Sign Sequel Delivers Grand Slam Of Memories
There's a little bit of author Kevin Keating in all of us baseball fans.
Pursuing autographs at ballparks, hotels where MLB clubs are staying while on the road, or in Cooperstown during induction weekend, there's something about the hunt that is at the very least - exciting.
Since the 1970's, there is none better at collecting, trading, grading, and spreading good cheer of baseball autographs than Keating. Whoever may be in second place is way in the back of the pack.
In what is the most anticipated book over the past couple of years for me, and I have no doubt for autograph aficionados everywhere, Keating's Waiting For A Sign Volume Two is a must read. The nearly 300 pages doesn't disappoint. As someone who has been fascinated with collecting baseball autographs since 1971 when I first met Yankees pitcher Fritz Peterson in the players parking lot (yes, back then you could wait to open the door of the players as they arrived at the Stadium), being up and close with the players and taking away proof of our connection remains an addiction for me.
The twenty chapters Keating shares of his meetings and friendships with some of the biggest names in the game during some of the game's biggest moments is enough to make any fan jealous.
The chapter on former MLB infielder Ted Kubiak, who played for 10 seasons including for all three Oakland A's championship clubs of the 1970's, is beyond heartfelt. This chapter should be a catalyst for some cable channel to make a film about. How Ted and Kevin's father, the late James Thomas Keating, bonded is a wonderful way to put a bow on Waiting For A Sign Volume Two.
Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn is another baseball star that Keating befriended, after initially requesting an autograph. Spahn, who retired from the game at age 44 in 1965, and Keating became as close as family. In November 2003, when Spahn passed at his home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, Keating was one of the last to spend quality time with arguably the game's greatest left-handed pitcher. The details offered of this final meeting between these two friends may require you to have a box of tissues handy.
As if there isn't enough to be envious of Keating, wait until you learn about his relationship with the late, great New York Yankees pitching sensation Whitey Ford. Keating allows readers to come on the inside of his relationship with the hall of fame pitcher, and offers details on how he began marketing Ford's autographs.
The story Keating shares of standing outside of the Executive House Hotel in downtown Chicago of waiting for a sign at 8:30 AM of future Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew is fabulous. This allows you to be a kid all over again, remembering what it was like to be standing outside players' entrances at ballparks with pen and ball at the ready for autographs.
It was in 1973, Keating requested Killebrew to sign 18 cards - and the all-star first baseman complied. Throw in a couple magazine photos and books for signatures as well, but the best was yet to come on this chance meeting. Keating describes how he brought a tape recorder with him to the hotel, and with Killebrew's cooperation, he conducted his first audio interview. The process is beyond riveting, just how this was completed, and what was said.
Then, there's the letter Keating tells of receiving in 1971 from Hall of Famer George Sisler. A member of the Hall's Class of 1939, Sisler sent Keating, then 11-years-old, a typed, personalized letter, along with signing a few plaque cards.
You may know the late actor Paul Gleason from such films as Trading Places and The Breakfast Club, but few knew his interest in collecting baseball autographs. The meeting between Gleason and Keating in Anaheim at the National Sports Collectors Convention is beyond any fans' expectations.
The details on this visit to Anaheim is clearly my favorite chapter. Before arriving at the convention, Gleason and Keating stopped at his pal and fellow actor Charlie Sheen's condo. Sheen has always had a passion for baseball memorabilia. The ride back from the show to Sheen's condo took a detour, per Gleason's request. Gleason suggested that they find Sheen's star along Hollywood's Walk of Fame. In the evening, under darkness, the trio searched the sidewalks along Hollywood Boulevard until they found it.
Keating's relationship with former Boston Red Sox hurlers Alan Embree and Mike Myers, especially during the 2004 championship season is well documented in Waiting For A Sign Volume Two. Throw in a meal with The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon, and you can't put down the book.
Oh, did I forget to tell you how Keating pulled strings to get an entire Cleveland Indians team a private tour of The White House? He did. Trust me, you want to read on in how he was able to accomplish this.
" Many of the stories had been written years ago," said Keating during a recent phone conversation about the contents of Waiting For A Sign Volume Two. " Initially I only wanted to do one book, but that would have been about 700-800 pages. All the stories I share are personal tributes to that person in the chapter. My hope is to bring these people to life."
Keating emotions fly high in Waiting For A Sign Volume Two. It's clear that the autographs requested are in fact the conduit that brings him close to the person. The chapters on Gleason, Kubiak, Spahn, and Chuck Connors stand above all others for Keating.
" I loved them like family members," explained Keating.
So many recognizable names from the game, Hall of Famer George Brett, the late pitching brothers Phil and Joe Niekro, the list goes on of who Keating befriended, and how their friendships grew.
If there is one name that Keating is eager to speak about (and write about) is the former TV and film star Chuck Connors, who in parts of two seasons played 67 games with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
" He was the nicest, most accommodating person," admits Keating of The Rifleman. " I have to pinch myself all the time when I think of our friendship. (Connors) was so much bigger than life. With his flowing, silver hair, Connors was very imposing."
It's Keating's hope that by letting others know how his friendships through baseball and autograph collecting impacted his life, readers will get to them, too.
Waiting For A Sign Volume Two is available at www.waitingforasignbook.com. A Kindle version is available at Amazon.com
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter from the Mohawk Valley, now living in Florida. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.