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  • When I was 7, my older brother Chris took me to my first ballgame at Forbes Field. It was the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. the Houston Colt ‘45’s, an expansion team in their first season in the league, 1962. They would later be renamed the Astros, when they built the first domed stadium with artificial grass and called it the Astrodome.

    It was love at first sight for me and baseball, in that glorious old cathedral of baseball learning, Forbes Field. Chris provided a lot of early lessons for me in that little slice of heaven I had found here on earth. He took me to more games and showed me some of the park's nooks and crannies, including a rain spout you could shimmy up to get from the cheap left field bleachers seats into the exclusive third base box seats.

    I had my own morning paper route at age 8, and worked after school in a bakery by age 9, so I had income. I went to as many games as I could on my own. It required taking 2 trolleys (streetcars) all the way across town, from Brookline to Oakland. By age 10, I was getting out to 30 – 40 ballgames a year. My childhood dream was to grow up to be a major leaguer, and to one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. That's all I wanted!

    It was a warm summer evening. The Pirates were playing the Cincinnati Reds in a twi-night double-header. I was seated several rows behind the Reds’ dugout in the box seats, having snuck in there via the rain spout. An older guy who was a feeling good behind a few beers asked, “Hey kid – you want a player’s hat?” “Sure, mister! How do I do that?” "See that water cooler beside the dugout? When a player comes over to get a drink, while they're bending down to pour the water, just reach over the railing, grab their hat, stick it in your shirt, and run like the devil!” “Nah – I don’t think so!” “But you said you wanted a player’s hat! You can do it!”

    I tried to ignore him and watch the game after that, but he kept peppering me with encouragement and challenging comments. Finally, I’d had enough. I went down to the railing, and tried to build up my courage to do the deed. A couple players came and went, but I just couldn't do it. Then, something in me just switched and I reached over to grab the next guy's hat – I had no idea who he was, hadn't seen his face, but as I got his hat in my hand, his right hand shot up and grabbed my wrist, just like that! I thought I was done for!

    Somehow, I managed to wriggle free, and I ran for all I was worth! For all I knew, he might have been running after me. I was scared to death, and kept running until I was safely under the stands. Then I realized that no one had followed me. "Oh, my God, I have a player’s hat!" It was there inside my shirt! I pulled it out to study it. It had the big “C” on the front of it, the grayish coloring of a road team’s hat, with red stripes coming down from the crown, and a red brim. I looked at the inside of it, and there, on the inside band, I learned whose hat it was - for there, the number “14”, followed by “Rose” was written on the band! I had Pete Rose’s hat! I almost died.

    I wore that hat everywhere for the next several years. Then, it eventually made it’s way into a box with all of my other baseball memorabilia from those years. That box eventually found its way into the attic when the family moved. Then, during another move, it inadvertently got tossed! A real tragedy, as far as I was concerned!

    In 2006, I attended a Board meeting in Las Vegas. Kathy came along, as well. We had checked out the sights and sounds of Las Vegas in the evenings. On the last day, Kathy went out on her own while we wrapped up our meeting. During a break in the meeting, she called and asked, “Do you like Pete Rose?” “Well, it’s complicated – he gambled on baseball and lied about it, but he was a great ballplayer. Had more hits than anybody, ever. Led the Reds and the Phillies to World Series championships. He should be in the Hall of Fame, but he’ll never get in because he gambled on games, then lied about it. Why do you ask?” “Your birthday's coming up, and they have this package deal - if you buy the Pete Rose jersey, baseball and picture, you get to sit and talk with him for 5 minutes while he signs it all. Interested?” "Absolutely!"

    After the meeting, I hustled over to the memorabilia store. As I made my way down the corridor toward the store, I could see a long line of people snaking around inside the store, spilling out into the corridor, to get Pete's autograph. But Kathy had really worked the handler, and we got the package deal, so as I approached, she said “This is my husband Pete, now”. The handler came over and escorted me right to the front of the line, and introduced me to Pete Rose. “Pete, this is Pete.”

    Not expecting much, since I'd heard rumors about how he was with autograph seekers, I expected it to be a short 5 minutes, with idle chit-chat, sign the items, be on your way. But Pete apparently is still a big baseball fan, as am I. We hit it off famously. The baseball yarns were rolling back and forth between us for what seemed like 20 minutes, when I remembered the hat incident. I debated whether I should bring it up – I really didn't want to ruin the moment - but it just came out.

    “You know, Pete…when I was a kid, I stole your hat.” He looked at me and grinned, with a look that seemed to say, “Yeah, sure you did, kid”. Before he could say anything, I continued “I can’t remember whether it was in 1965 or 1966...” The look on his face changed, from the smile to one a little more serious, and he asked, lowly, “Forbes Field?”

    I nearly fell off my chair – "Yes – Forbes Field! It was a twinight doubleheader, in the middle of the first game.” His face now scrunched up, his eyebrows furrowed, his eyes squinted, and he said, “That was 1965, you son of a bitch!”

    I was sure he was about to reach across that table and grab me by the throat – but then he broke into a big grin and laughed, and I laughed, and I said, incredulously “How do you remember that, Pete? That was 41 years ago!” He shook his head and said, “I’ll tell how I remember. Frank Robinson would not let me hear the end of it for the rest of that season. ‘How could you let some little punk steal your hat from your head in the dugout? What kind of major leaguer are you, anyway?’ He never let up.

    "Well, that was the last year we played together on the Reds. Frank got traded to the Baltimore Orioles after that season. So it had to be ’65.” I was stunned beyond belief. I told him I was really sorry, and he just laughed and said “forget about it, kid”. Then he asked, “Do you still have it?” I told him all about how the hat got tossed in a move while I was in the Navy. It was a very memorable moment, for sure.

    About a month later, I learned of a memorabilia story contest the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown was having. They were calling for great stories about a piece of baseball memorabilia. The top 3 stories and their writers would be invited to tell their stories to the assembled masses at the Hall of Fame Theater in Cooperstown, then the stories would be inducted into the Hall of Fame, forever enshrined in the annals of baseball lore there. I wrote up my Pete Rose hat story and sent it in.

    A couple of months later, I learned that my story had been selected as one of three from the contest to be inducted into the Hall of Fame! I was in!

    Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader and a great ballplayer, still awaits induction, and will probably not see that happen in his lifetime.

    Pete Bridgeman, on the other hand, has a story about Pete Rose that now resides somewhere in the storied Baseball Hall of Fame – the fulfillment of a childhood dream!
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