When we were kids we couldn’t wait for our birthdays — we were going to get the best gifts ever! Well, how many of us even remember any of our childhood gifts, let alone still have them? Well, I still have two baseball-related birthday gifts that really weren’t even gifts at all; one was a coincidence, and the second was a coincidence so unlikely that it convinces me to this day that there is some kind of higher power at work in our universe.
But I begin with the non-spiritual one. Like millions of other children, I used to write to baseball teams and players asking them for some kind of memorabilia. They often sent pictures (I wonder if teams still do that today). Of course I wrote to my idol Hank Aaron. I liked him because I had read the young-adult book “Hammerin’ Hank of the Braves” (a book I recently picked up again at a flea market), and I was struck at how, despite his accomplishments, I didn’t think he got the credit he was due. He was still chasing Babe Ruth’s home run record at the time, and everyone was saying, “He’s not as good as the Babe. He’ll never be as good as Willie Mays.” This struck a chord in my underdog mentality (I am the youngest in my family, and of course, I am a Mets fan!), so he became my favorite.
On my 10th birthday I got an envelope in the mail. It contained a signed picture of Aaron, addressed personally to me:
I was excited. I wrote on the back “Got it on my birthday 1973” in my childish elementary school script. A few years later when I started collecting memorabilia I decided that my inscription might hurt its value, so I tried to erase it. I didn’t do a good job; it can still be faintly seen.
(But I did destroy any value of a Roberto Clemente card. In the early 1970s Topps came out with a line of over-sized cards on thicker cardboard. Next to Clemente’s date of birth I wrote “Died 12/31/72.” My brother, the card’s co-owner, still won’t let me forget it. Yet he forgets that he was the one who wrecked the big Aaron card my trying to copy his signature on it. So there.).
In any case, I felt like I got a birthday present from the great Hank Aaron himself, and I’ve kept it ever since. Is the signature real, or did some clubhouse kid sign it? Does it really matter?
Now onto the biblical gift. I assume I wasn’t the only kid who looked at the back of every baseball card to check the players’ birthdays in the hopes that at least one of them shared mine. Well, at least one did; exactly one, actually — Clyde Wright. Wright was a relatively obscure player who pitched mostly for the Angels in a 10-year career from 1966-1975. He had a couple of good seasons, including winning 22 games in 1970. Yankees fans probably hate him because he is the father of Jaret Wright, a high-priced failure from a few years back. I would never have known of Clyde Wright had it not been for our shared birthday, but I did know of him, even at an early age.
So one year on my birthday (it might have been the year before the Aaron gift, perhaps the year after, but probably not the same year) I was walking to school with my friends (back in the day when it was safe to walk to school without parental involvement) when I saw something on the ground, glistening in the early morning winter sun. As I got closer I saw that it was a baseball coin.
In 1971 Topps came out with a line of baseball coins, each a little bit bigger than a JFK half-dollar. There were 153 in all.
I bent down to pick it up. I looked at the player. Of course it was Clyde Wright.
I found a baseball coin on a random street in Brooklyn, on my birthday, of the one player who shared a birthday with me. That is too big to be a coincidence. That coin was left there for me to find. I believe that to this day. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on matters such as this, and call it what you want, but I think it shows that something bigger than all of us is at work here.
This year for my birthday I might get a Tom Seaver autographed baseball if my girlfriend picked up on my very obvious hints. It would be a great gift that I will always keep, but I just don’t think anything can top my Hank Aaron picture and my miracle Clyde Wright coin.