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March 6, 2014

Chance encounters with star athletes

Did I ever tell you about the time I shook hands with the immortal Ted Williams?

My dad took me to my first baseball game at Fenway Park to celebrate a birthday. I couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 at the time and looked forward to my big day.

We arrived at the ballpark early and loaded up on all the necessities: A pennant, peanuts, popcorn and pop — soda pop, that is. I brought along a baseball, just in case.

It was the late 1940s and the team was stacked with icons such as Williams, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio and Joe Cronin.

We were down by the dugout and Williams was signing autographs.

“Say hello to the birthday boy,” my dad shouted out.

All of a sudden, the Splendid Splinter came over to me, took my baseball, and affixed his name to it. Never did catch one of his foul balls that day, but my own autographed ball stood the test of time — until one of my sons confiscated it.

The Williams signing was a moment I shall not forget, even surpassing those of The Boston Celtics when I used to photograph their games of the 1960s with Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman. Saw them all, photographed them in action, and got a few pictures of them autographed.

Of course, as kids we had our role models. After Williams, along came Steve Reeves as “The Mighty Hercules.” Who wouldn’t have wanted to be the world’s strongest man?

I took a correspondence course as advertised through the comic books I used to read, but it never worked out. They forgot to mail me the muscles and I went back to being the class nerd.

My kids all grew up with he-man figures. Now their own kids are attuned to these Masters of the Universe. I step inside their home and the whole place goes bonkers with swords flashing and evil lurking behind closed doors. Whatever happened to Popeye and Mary Poppins?

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