I took a trip down memory lane last night as my wife Bonnie and I had the pleasure of having dinner with former White Sox star third baseman Pete Ward and his wife Margaret.
This is the same Pete Ward who was my favorite player when I was a less-than-mediocre backup third-sacker for the 1965 Calumet Conference champion Wirt High School Troopers in Northwest Indiana. How much of a backup? I played nine innings in two years and spent most of the time coaching first base. But I was proud of the No. 8 on the back of my uniform–the same number that Pete wore with the Sox when he was the 1963 Sporting News Rookie Player of the Year and for a time the club’s No. 1 offensive threat.
Through a serendipitous circumstance, my favorite player and I became friends when I was at Sports Illustrated. You see, Pete was on his way to becoming an SI cover boy in June of 1965 after he led the Sox into first place following a weekend series victory over the Yankees. The cover was even printed. But Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston in their rematch around that time and Pete was bumped (see below).
I met him when he knocked on SI’s door in the 1990s to see if he could add to his collection of the almost covers. They were nowhere to be found in the SI offices, but that didn’t diminish the fact I had met my Pete Ward. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Ali, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Sandy Koufax and many others on the elite level. None gave me a bigger thrill than the day I met Pete.
Since that time I have gotten to know Pete and Margaret as friends. They are the kind of people that are wonderful to be around. The fact that Pete was once my favorite player is always there, but our friendship has gone way beyond the fan/athlete stage.
What a great thing it is to meet your boyhood idol and then become his friend. It’s even better when he’s all you thought he would be.