The business card that changed everything

 

By Troy Foster

AUSTIN, Texas — Twenty-three years ago, a grey-haired man handed me a business card and made a tacit promise.

“Son, call me in 11 years and I’ll come out to see if you’re good enough to play in the Majors.”

With these words, my childhood was forever changed. The man was a scout for the Oakland A’s. I was just 7 at the time. Not only did he hand me a small, 2-by-3.5-inch card, he handed me a dream. When I turned 18 he was going to come out to watch me play.

He was going to give me a shot at being an Oakland A.

This event is legendary within my family, but time has a funny way of affecting the way we all remember it, as is often the case with legends.

As I recall it, this man gave me the business card in an aisle at Fred Meyer in Portland, Oregon, while my father and I were shopping for a new baseball bat. He saw me looking at bats and struck up a friendly conversation with an aspiring baseball player.

As my father recalls it, the man gave me the business card in the checkout line of Fred Meyer, a few minutes after befriending us in the sporting goods section. There are minor differences in our recollections, but it’s still the same story.

As my brother recalls it, this exchange took place at an entirely different store in an entirely different town. Dad and I don’t even remember my brother being there, but Todd claims to remember the expression on my face as the scout handed me the card.

“Yeah, he was an Italian guy and it was at G.I. Joe’s in Beaverton,” my brother said as we were discussing this story at the dinner table two months ago.

No matter the exact circumstances, this event did occur — one way or another. I know this because I found that business card tucked away in my dad’s office all these years later. We passed through Portland on May 27 — at the very beginning of our basecrawl — and after sifting through Dad’s stacks of dusty business cards in an office cabinet I found one from an employee of the “Oakland Athletics Baseball Company.”

“Fred Rocco Granato, Scout.”

Italian guy? Maybe my brother isn’t crazy.

After verifying the existence of the Oakland scout’s business card, I decided to call the number on it to see if he’d answer all these years later. But the number was dead, and as I set the phone down I noticed my hand was shaking.

We’ve been traveling all over this great nation in search of unique stories on baseball and the way it shapes our culture. On a personal level, I’m trying to reconnect with my own pastime, so I made an effort earlier in our trip to locate this Fred Rocco Granato.

My obsession for the Oakland A's manifested itself in this baseball card Halloween costume my mother made for me, circa 1985.

My obsession for the Oakland A's manifested itself in this baseball card Halloween costume my mother made for me, circa 1985.

I wanted to tell him how important baseball had been to my childhood, and how his kind gesture had shaped it.

After meeting Mr. Granato in that aisle in Fred Meyer — or maybe it was G.I. Joe’s in Beaverton — I spent the next six or seven years obsessing over baseball in general and the Oakland A’s in particular. My whole psyche was framed around the dream of one day playing in the Major Leagues. I collected baseball cards, memorized starting lineups, and covered my room with A’s paraphernalia.

Every night, I went to bed dreaming of Oakland. Every morning, I spread the sports page across our living room floor to check the A’s box score and study the stats before breakfast.

My parents supported my childhood dreams. Sometime in the mid-1980s, Mom made me a life-sized Oakland A’s baseball card that served as a Halloween costume. Dad started taking me to the Kingdome every year to see a series between the A’s and the Mariners (the A’s always won, and I think the Mariners got so tired of losing there that they decided to tear down the Kingdome). One year Dad even took me down to Oakland Coliseum to see the A’s beat up on the Brewers.

I worshiped guys like Jose Canseco, Carney Lansford, Mickey Tettleton and Rickey Henderson. I studied the windups of pitchers like Dennis Eckersley and Dave Stewart, then mimicked their moves on the playground.

I had heroes, and I had a dream.

As the years passed by, my chance encounter with the A’s scout was constantly on my mind.

I don't think I took this A's hat off once in five years. Here I am with Dad at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York.

I don't think I took this A's hat off once in five years. Here I am with Dad at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, New York.

I told all my friends that I had a personal tryout waiting for me when I turned 18, and I counted down the years until then. On my 8th birthday I was well aware that I only had 10 more years to go. When I turned 12 it was down to six.

Only there was one problem: I wasn’t very good at baseball.

Actually, I was a pretty damn good catcher for a Little Leaguer, but as boys became men and the pitches kept increasing in speed, so did the frequency of my strikeouts.

My obsession with baseball came to a grinding halt sometime in the first half of the 1990s. That’s when I realized I had a better chance of winning a beauty pageant than playing for the Oakland A’s. Add in a player’s strike, puberty, girls and a budding interest in music — my interest in baseball faded.

I think I even came to loathe baseball.

I stopped believing in Santa Claus sometime around second grade, but I continued believing that Mr. Granato was really going to keep his promise and come watch me play when I was 18. I believed this right up until my last game of Babe Ruth ball, the day I realized I was too awful to continue playing. I was 13, I think.

My interest in baseball has only recently returned. When I watched my alma matter, Oregon State, cruise to two consecutive NCAA national titles in 2006 and 2007, it was like being reintroduced to a friend I hadn’t seen in 15 years. When Daren, Nolan and I began cooking up plans for this basecrawl, my memories of the A’s scout returned.

I attempted to contact the Athletics organization on our way to the Bay Area. I related this story in an e-mail, but left out a small detail.

“What is the scout’s name? You have his card, but you didn’t mention his name,” an Oakland employee named Debbie responded in an e-mail.

I promptly responded with the name, but that was the last I heard from the A’s office, even after I tried to follow up with a few phone calls on the day of our game there. But I’m not here to complain. Debbie noted in her e-mail that their organization was in “full, pre-draft mode” and the draft was just a week away.

I’ve also tried to Google “Fred Rocco Granato,” but I find absolutely nothing. There’s only one Granato listed in the Portland phone book, and it isn’t Fred.

I put finding Mr. Granato on the back burner as I got caught up in the other things we’re doing for our project. But I’ve kept his business card in my wallet throughout our journey, and as I watched my former favorite team kick the devil out of the Rays in Tampa Bay a week ago, I decided it was time to give this another shot.

We’re heading West again and I’m visiting A’s message boards to see if anyone out there knows what became of Mr. Fred Rocco Granato. Please send me an e-mail if you do.

I’m not even sure if Mr. Granato is around anymore, but if he is I want to meet him, or at least tell him that he’s still on my mind all these years later. I wonder whether I was the only little boy Mr. Granato gave a business card to, or if he repeated this gesture numerous times. Maybe he created hundreds of A’s fans like me.

There’s something else, too. Daren and I have been playing catch, shagging balls and swinging the bat on our basecrawl whenever we find an empty field and some free time. I just turned 30, which means I’m still of playing age.

I’m feeling pretty good about my swing lately, and I’ve noticed the A’s could use a little help.

(There’s more on this and our other adventures at BaseCrawl.com.)

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3 Responses to “The business card that changed everything”

  1. Sandra Foster Says:

    Troy,

    I really thought this was a great story to tell…

  2. […] fanaticism was driven by a chance encounter with an Oakland A’s scout when I was 7 years old, who promised me if I called him in 11 years he would give me a tryout. That […]

  3. well, i know how u feel, ive been out of the game for years and now im just getting into amatuer baseball and i tell you for bieng 24 and playing with guys my age it feels like a huge difference and i tell you i miss playing as a kid, but sometime we lose it and we get it back, and like you i have a passion and im determined to play as when we all were children it helped alot of us through the harshest of times and the best of times, so i can relate, i would love to have you guys come down and watch a game sometime maybe even start a team together, let me know.

    sincerly,

    john owen

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