We made our way up the turnpike and returned home from The National in Atlantic City on the last day of July. It was my birthday and I wanted to get home at a reasonable time to spend the day with the kiddos.
Although I wasn’t expecting any birthday presents, my neighbor Josh sent me a text earlier in the day mentioning that he had left something for me in the mailbox.
I got home to see, among other things, the package he left me which consisted of a nice handwritten card (with a joke about my age, which is, sadly, not 25), a Pirates hat and a baseball autographed by a number of Pittsburgh Pirates players some years ago.
Josh’s letter states that his mother had gotten the ball signed for him at a Pirates game in the mid-1990s. She wasn’t clear as to the names of any of the names on the ball as she had just passed it around for various Buccos to sign. She thought it might have been from a game she attended in 1994. She also mentioned that she thought the Pirates played the Tigers but that wouldn’t be the case because interleague play didn’t in start until 1997.
Josh had promised his mom that one day he would give the ball to a big Pirates fan, which is where I come into the equation.
Of course, initially the sports detective in me wanted to track down, to the best of my ability, what game they attended and, of course, figure out what players signed the ball.
I was ready to get my sports memorabilia version of Joe Kenda on.
Before I got any real information my first thought was to check the rosters of the Pirates from the years that Josh mentioned (1995 and 1997) in the card but in looking at the ball next to the Spalding logo the number 96 is written, so potentially, the year the ball was signed. Also being a Pirates fan a few of the names were clear enough to read and recognize just looking at the ball at first glance. Infielder Mark Johnson left handed pitcher Jason Christiansen both stood out as clear signatures. In turn, both players were on the 95, 96 and 97 Buccos squads.
On another panel is appears at first glance as though pitcher Dan Plesac signed the ball. After a quick Internet search of what his signature looks like, I’m fully confident it’s him. Plesac was on the 1995 and 1996 teams but not 1997. So that eliminates one year.
Another panel has a very faded signature that appears to be pitcher Zane Smith and the number 24 inscription. Again after a quick photomatching search it’s confirmed that it’s Smith’s signature. Zane was on the 1996 team but not 1995, so that information leaves 1996 as the only year these players played together for the Pirates.
It took me a minute to figure out the autograph below Smith and after looking at a few Pirates rosters (thanks to Baseball Reference) it appears as though Joe Boever appeared in 13 games for Pittsburgh in 1996 and in cross referencing John Hancocks, that is indeed his signature.
So, it appears as though Josh’s mom went to a Pirates game in 1996 and got the signatures found on the ball. He mentioned wanting to pass it down to an ultimate Pirates fan, which I gladly accepted. I will make it a point to pass it down to the little ultimate Pirates fan in our house and display it on Isabella’s bookshelf. Soon she will be able to start asking for autographs on her own.
The 1996 Pirates finished 73-89 and the roster wasn’t packed with big names, but that kind of made my detective work more fun.
And regardless of monetary value, it’s priceless to have friends (and neighbors) like my guy Josh.