Meeting Famous People

Here are my stories of famous people I’ve met, listed below in no particular order, and posted for no particular reason, other than seeing Brent’s “Stars” page.

Billie Jean King: Met her in London. My wife and I went to go see a play with Richard Thomas and BJK was sitting three rows behind us. After the show, we were standing in front of the theater and Ms. King walked right in front of me, and I said, “Hello, Ms. King,” and she stopped and turned around. Her companion shot me an evil eye, but Ms. King smiled, said “Hello” and stuck out her hand. I said, “Ms. King, I just wanted to tell you how much my wife and I admire you.” “Thank you, she said, and you are?” So I introduced myself and my wife, and Billie Jean asked us where we were from, then she said it was nice to meet us, she hoped we enjoyed our time in London and she was off.

Tony Gwynn: This was probably in 1985 or 1986. I was at a driving range in San Diego, near East County, called Mission Trails. I had just started hitting a few balls, and I took a look at the guy next to me. He was left handed and really hitting some solid drives. I watched him hit a couple and started to think he looked familiar. Finally, I worked up the courage to say, “You know, you look a heck of a lot like Tony Gwynn.” And he said, “Well, maybe that’s because I am.” So Tony and I chatted about baseball for about 20 minutes. Even to this day, I think it’s just great that I got to spend 20 minutes talking baseball with one of the greatest baseball men of our generation.

Nate Colbert: I first met Nate when I was 10 or 11 years old. There was an autograph session at Hoover High School (the former HS, I should mention, of Ted Williams), which was about two blocks from my house in East San Diego (I grew up on 44th Street). Nate was there with Jerry Coleman and Dave Campbell. I hung around until every other kid had left, and then I walked with Nat, Jerry and Dave to their cars. Nate talked with me the whole time. It was a huge thrill for a kid who thought Nate Colbert was the greatest player in baseball. Many years later, Nate was asked to speak to the faculty of my college. I heard he was on campus, so I rushed over to hall where he was scheduled to speak. He had arrived early and was just standing outside the hall, alone, waiting. I introduced myself and we talked for about 10 minutes before faculty started arriving. Colbert is still one of my heroes. Colbert can certainly appreciate a small-boy’s idol worship. He grew up a fan of Stan Musial and was in the stands the day Stan the Man blasted five home runs in a double header, a major league record. Nate tied that record 18 years later (the picture I’m posting with this — I have an autographed print of it that I got that day I first met Colbert).

Eric Show: One of the saddest moments of my life was sitting at home one evening watching Star Trek with my wife when a news teaser came on: “Padres pitcher found dead …” and the picture on the screen was of Show. I immediately burst into tears. I was surprised at my emotional response, because I’m usually a little more stoic than that. But the news was so unexpected. I hadn’t talked with Eric in about five years and I had no idea how much his life had fallen apart (he died of a drug overdose). But for a while, I considered Show a friend. Our friendship started when I wrote him a letter criticizing him for a quote in the newspaper. He responded. We started a year-long correspondence about politics (as conservative as I’ve become since then, his politics would probably still be to the right of mine). Eventually, we would talk on the phone once in a while, get together for lunch and I’d stop by his guitar shop when he was in town. It wasn’t a close friendship, by any means, but he told me about some of the demons he fought and I knew he was a complex man — too complex to have a smooth ride in the sports world — but he was a good man.

Larry Linville: The picture I should really post with this one is of me and Larry talking (but that would take effort). In college, my friends and I were huge MASH fans (I still am, in fact, and one of the great things about TIVO is I always have some MASH episodes to watch). Linville spoke at USD one evening and my friends Doug Brunk and Keith Finley and I went over there to hear him. He talked for a while about making the show and then showed us an episode and told us about making it. After his speech, we all got in line to shake his hand. When I met him, I told him that my friends and I had memorized all of these MASH quotes and we wanted to do a book called “The Quotable MASH.” He thought that was a great idea. Then he said, “It’s nice to meet you,” and I shot back, “Well, it’s nice to be nice to the nice” (one of his own lines). He nearly fell over laughing.

Nick Lowe: My junior year in high school. I bought a ticket to see Elvis Costello at Golden Hall. It was the first concert I ever bought tickets for myself. Rockpile and Mink Deville opened (MD sucked and I’ve never linked them). I arrived at the show a couple of hours early. I hung out by the stage door. Nick Lowe came out for a smoke. I walked right up to him and said hello. I told him how much I loved “Pure Pop for Now People,” and we chatted. A young girl came up and said, “You’re Nick Lowe!” and then asked for his autograph (You’ll notice in these stories that I don’t ask for autographs — my thinking is, I’ve already gotten more from these people than I deserve, so why ask them to give me something else. I’m there to give them something — my admiration. Everybody craves admiration, no matter how big a star, so that’s what I try to give in as kind and humble a manner as possible.) Nick signed the autograph and then she asks, “Do you really like the Bay City Rollers.” I thought, as a teen would, that I was going to die of embarrassment. I hoped, oh how I hoped, that Nick didn’t think I was WITH this idiot girl. To understand what a thoroughly insipid question this was, you need to know the song “Rollers Show,” which is a pure spoof of the Rollers bubblegum pop and the fans of the band. It implies not that Lowe is a Rollers fan, but rather that he loathes them, much as he loathes Rick Astley (link is an MP3 of Dar Williams performing “All Men Are Liars” — you gotta listen). Nick patiently explained that the song was a joke, and you could see the disappointment in the young girl’s (I mean, 15 years old young, whereas I was much older at 17) face.

Midge Ure: I had some friends in San Diego who had a band called The Seventh, which was new-ro new wave band, very much in keeping with Midge’s band at the time, Ultravox. A promoter booked The Seventh to open at SDSU’s Backdoor, but when Ultravox got into town, they said “No opening acts.” So the promoter gave the band and all the band’s friends backstage passes. So after the show, we went backstage and I introduced myself to Midge. He was a very nice guy and we talked about books for about 10 minutes.

Randy Jones: To talk about meeting Randy Jones these days, for a Padres fan, really doesn’t mean as much as it once did — like when he was winning 20 games a year and taking home a Cy Young Award, but when I was 15, meeting Randy Jones was a big deal. Today, Jones runs a BBQ stand inside of San Diego Stadium. It’s damn good BBQ and he’s usually mingling with the crowd. I met Jones as part of a birthday gift from my parents. The PBS station in San Diego had a fund raising auction and my parents bid on and own a package that allowed us to go in the Padres clubhouse before a game (in this case, June 19, 1976), in the dugout and on the field during batting practice. Jones was in the clubhouse when we arrived. He had a pile of baseballs in front of him and he was autographing them. He signed one for me and (it already had all of the other players signatures on it) and gave it to me. We talked for a while, but I was in awe. At that moment, Jones was the greatest pitcher to ever wear a Padres uniform. We then went out onto the field where I shook met Johnny Grubb (also a favorite, and he had a firm handshake), Bobby Tolin (STRONG handshake), and Mike Ivie (limp, slimy handshake) — guess which of these three was the better hitter? And number #2? And the worst? Coincidence? I think not.

I’m excluding from this post famous (or well known) people I’ve met through journalism, since that’s sort of cheating … it’s just too easy when your a reporter to meet well known people. Besides, if I did that, the list would be very long with politicians (Duncan Hunter, Willie Brown, Steve Baldwin, Tom Connolly, Jay La Suer, Jim Bates — though Bates would be an interesting story to tell some time, if I could get away with telling the whole truth).

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