A Six-Year-Old Encounters Greatness

Jun 13, 2017

Legendary Red Sox center fielder Jim Piersall died earlier this month at the age of 87. Commentator Robert Floyd had an encounter with the heralded player he'll never forget. 

I was going on six years old. My Dad -- a reserved man, yet full of cunning -- informed me that Jim Piersall was in town.

"Naahh."

"Yes."

Jim Piersall -- my first hero. He was known for his on-field clowning, yet he excelled in his sport. Ted Williams described him as the best defensive center fielder he'd ever seen. And that year -- 1952 -- he wore the Red Sox uniform.

Back then, there was only one sport: baseball. One team: the Red Sox.

I wanted to accept this amazing news, but how could it be? I peppered my dad with questions.

“Dad, this is Fall River. Jim Piersall plays in Boston. Why would he come here? And...at a market?”

“To sign baseballs,” my Dad explained.

I didn't know baseball players ever left the field. But I had a ball, and I wanted it signed.

Piersall’s visit coincided with lunchtime. Nobody missed -- or was late for -- lunch. We promised Mom we'd be back in time.

Off we went to First National Supermarket, my baseball clutched in my little hands. The line inside crossed the entire front of the store and curved down the farthest aisle. Piersall was out of sight. The line was too long.

Dad said, "Let's go home."

But I put my little foot down -- a first for me. I assaulted my dad with rapid-fire pleas.

And then: "Come with me!"

He tore off ahead of me, down aisle 1. I followed, in hot pursuit. We flew across the back of the store, turned up aisle seven -- canned vegetables -- and there Piersall was standing. All six feet of him. With his back to us.

Suddenly, I was petrified.

"Yell out 'Jimmy,'" Dad coached. "He'll think he knows you and will turn around."

"But Dad...'Jimmy?' Nobody calls him that!"

Nobody did back then. "Jim," I suggested.

"Won’t work," Dad said.

Hesitantly, I walked ahead. Alone.

"Jimmy!"

Piersall spun around. Was he angry? Nope. He was clearly delighted. Maybe he recognized a fellow prankster. He reached toward my outstretched hand with his pen.

It was a home run. I had a signed ball. Dad had scored once more. And we made it back in time for lunch.

Robert Floyd is a photojournalist. He lives in Southampton, Mass.