Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Ballad of Wayne Kirby or My Very Own Joe Shlabotnik

My Grandpa and I were not very close. This isn't as much of emotional statement as it was a pre-internet geographical reality. We lived in Ohio, he, in my lifetime, mostly lived in Georgia. I knew him as my father's dad, retired, a smoker, originally from Michigan, had lived in Ohio for a time, (that's how my dad ended up there), and residing in Georgia. I knew that I got flowers from him on my birthday, got presents from him, (via my parents) at Christmas, and would say hi to him on the phone on father's day. I rarely saw him. We visited him in Georgia when I was 10 and he came up to Ohio or Michigan a handful of times.

I knew him as someone who moved a lot (or at least it seemed so to a young child). Like I said, I knew that my dad was born in Michigan, but he and two of his five siblings lived in Ohio, having moved down when my Grandpa's job relocated him. One of my first recollections of my Grandpa is hearing that he and my Grandma were moving to Georgia after having lived in Virginia for a few years.

Something that I remember about my Grandma is that she had a lot of nicknacks. Stuff she had picked up in the different locations she lived. Matchbooks in particular, all with the name of some restaurant or hotel in some town in the midwest or Atlantic coast. While my Grandpa was far from a minimalist (he'd stop and pick up items along the highway that had fallen off someone's car, and was hesitant to get rid of anything because it would probably come in handy some day) he didn't collect matchbooks in his travels, he collected people. My Grandpa would start a conversation with anyone who gave him a chance and quite a few folks who didn't. He was a fan of high school football and was a Friday night regular whether in Ohio, Virginia, or Georgia.

His youngest child was still in high school when Grandpa moved to Virginia and he took up supporting the Tabb High School Tigers. It was there, along his travels in York County Virginia, that my Grandpa added Wayne Kirby to his collection of people. After graduating from Tabb High, Wayne Kirby was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 13th Round of the Major League Baseball's 1983 Amateur Draft. A total of 288 players were taken in that draft before Wayne's name was finally called. When a team chooses a player in the 13th round, they aren't expecting much, and for a long time, Wayne met that expectation. He bounced around the Dodgers' minor system playing in cities like Bakersfield, Vero Beach, San Antonio, and Albuquerque . Finally, in 1990, Kirby was granted free agency, and signed with the Cleveland Indians. Just because he changed teams though, did not mean that his minor league days were behind him. He made is major league debut with the Indians in 1991, but only played 21 games in the big leagues, and again in 1992 he only played 21 out of 162 games with the Indians. In 1992 though, he had his best minor league year, and earned himself a shot a playing almost full time for the Indians in 1993. He played in 139 games that year, led the American League in Outfield Assists with 19, and finished 4th for Rookie of the Year.

1993 was also the year that I started to become aware of professional baseball, and specifically the closest team to where I lived, the Cleveland Indians. My dad took me to see the Indians for the first time on May 6, 1993 was the Indians last season at their long time home, Municipal Stadium (also known as the Mistake by the Lake). 1993 was supposed to be a promising year for the Indians as they got ready to move into a new baseball only ballpark in downtown Cleveland in 1994. The year got off to a rough start in spring training when two of their starting pitchers were killed and one seriously injured in a boating accident. To honor them, the Indians replaced a patch they were going to wear on their jerseys to commemorate their final season at Municipal Stadium with one honoring the two deceased pitchers, Tim Crews (#52) and Steve Olin (#31) The Indians never really recovered from the tragedy and finished the season with a record of 76 wins and 86 losses.

My grandpa had been watching the baseball transactions to try and keep tabs on Kirby, and knew that he was playing regularly with the Indians. I don't know when I became aware of the connection between this player that my Grandpa mentioned and my favorite team, but I imagine it was 1995. After his break through 1993 season, Wayne had turned into the 4th outfielder for the Indians in 1994 with the emergence of Manny Ramirez. He played in 101 games in 1995 due to injuries and played in the World Series with the Indians that year. It was Cleveland's first appearance in the World Series in 51 years, and I was hooked as a 10 year old baseball fan.

In 1996, Kirby's production took a step back and he was released from the Indians. He was picked up by his former team the Dodgers, but never again played more than 65 games in a season with the Dodgers, Cardinals, or Mets. In 1998 the Mets released him effectively ending his career. At the age of 34 his skills had diminished and while he tried to make it for one more season in 1999 with the Blue Jays, he didn't make the team.

Wayne Kirby stayed a conversation topic between my Grandpa and I after he left the Indians. We watched him finish out his career, I sent Wayne two baseball cards in the mail and he signed both of them. I kept one and sent one to Georgia. After Wayne retired he became a minor league coach in the Indians' minor league system, and the team that he coached for honored him with a bobblehead one of which I found on eBay and sent down to Grandpa as a Christmas present.

My Grandpa died in March of 2013. Our second son Rory was born in May of 2013. We gave him the middle name of Donald. My Grandpa's first name.

For a while I had an idea that I wanted to try to execute. I wanted to get a Wayne Kirby jersey. Now, you can get replica jerseys of some of the more famous Indians of the time, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome, Manny Rameriz, but finding one of an obscure fourth outfielder who spent just a few years with the tribe? I quickly realized that this one would be a DIY project. I'm horrible at DIY. My handiness is limited to changing a dead lightbulb, and creative activities that I undertake often result in a miniature panic attack.

Even so, I kept a look out on eBay though for a blank jersey. This was somewhat difficult. I wanted to get a jersey template from Wayne's rookie season in 1993, often referred to as the 'Major League' era uniforms. The Indians didn't start mass producing jerseys until 1995 when they went to the World Series. They changed their uniforms in 1994 though as a nod to them moving into their new stadium.

After checking eBay every once in a while over the course of a few months, I finally found a nameless/numberless 1993 home jersey. The woman selling it wanted $200 for it. I offered her $25, just to see what would happen and got it for Christmas for $35 plus shipping. Then came the harder part, trying to find lettering for it.

I found a place here in Napa that does custom heat press lettering. It turns out that the font that the Indians used back in the early 90s was a pretty common font. They lettering guy found it in his software and quickly went to work. 15 minutes (and $25 later) I had a red 35 on the front of the jersey and a two-colored 35 and KIRBY on the back. Like I mentioned earlier, the Indians were originally going to wear a patch commemorating their last year at Municipal Stadium, but then swapped it out for the memorial patch for the two pitchers that were killed. I visited eBay and was able to find the sleeve patches, and decided that I'd put both on, replacing the Chief Wahoo on the left sleeve with the original stadium patch. They guy at the Coliseum was able to heat press the stadium patch on for me and as it turns out, the memorial patch is just a sticker, so I put it on myself and might have to sew it on to make sure it sticks.

Clive, Jay, and I went to the Indians/Giants game in San Francisco last month. I'm happy with how the jersey turned out, and wore it to the game. I think Grandpa would get a kick out of it as well, if for no other reason than it would give us something else to talk about.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. I'm drowning in nostalgia right now! Wayne Kirby, we found out, was and always will be way cooler than Manny Ramirez.