Death of a dream
To a certain Times staff writer, happiness is a Larry Beets bobblehead doll. After hinting for one for months, John C. Cotey stopped at nothing in his quest for Pasco County's Holy Grail.
By JOHN C. COTEY
Published April 1, 2007
On Nov. 23, Times staff writer John C. Cotey suggested, half-jokingly, to new county athletic director Phil Bell that a Larry Beets Bobblehead Day was long overdue for the Ridgewood baseball coach. In the Dec. 21 newspaper, he reiterated that thought in a wish list for the county, and continued to suggest it in columns Dec. 24, Jan. 21, and March 2. He's obnoxious that way. But someone was reading. And Thursday at Ridgewood, Larry Beets Bobblehead Day became a reality. What kind of tale would this be if he, the originator of the idea, didn't end up with a bobblehead?
Well, a very, very sad one as it turns out.
We call it the most special shelf in the world. It sits in my den, and it contains various memories from my 4-year-old's life: his first hair clippings, the framed picture of him after birth, a baseball he once gave me that reads, "Best Dad Ever."
On Wednesday, it all went into a cardboard box.
"Jonathon," I said, crouching down to meet him eye-to-eye, "Daddy is going to need this shelf for his new Larry Beets bobblehead doll. I hope you understand."
I think he cried, which I think made his little brother start crying as well. I was too busy happily dusting and wiping the shelf to really notice.
My quest for Pasco County's version of the Holy Grail began on a Thursday night. Ridgewood was raffling off three Larry Beets bobblehead dolls, and I was determined to weasel my way into one.
My ammo: A bag of Times merchandise, a black iPod nano and $37.
Countries have been sold for less.
But as I walked in to Ridgewood, I had a sinking feeling my little trinkets would fall short. This wasn't your typical baseball crowd - it was a cult, with former players, former coaches and devoted students decked out in orange and blue. All that was missing was a Kool-Aid stand.
Consider: Jessica Birchmeier, a former Ridgewood softball player, entered the raffle in absentia from college in South Carolina. A school secretary thought she had misplaced a large batch of tickets she bought for other teachers who couldn't make it, and nearly fainted.
"Seriously ...we had to give her water," athletic booster club president Tom Carli said.
I had to be on my game with this crowd.
I didn't have much faith in winning a raffle for one of the three bobbleheads, but I plunked down $5 for a ticket - No. 200136 - anyway. Two other bobbleheads were up for silent auction, but Judy Galatolo, a guidance secretary at Ridgewood, told me she thought the winning bids would be around $450-500.
I did the math in my head - if I put 1,607 miles on my mileage report, I could clear $450; if my editors noticed that Ridgewood was only 3 miles from the office, I'd be fired. On to plan B.
Galatolo said no one had tried to bribe her yet, and that I was the first. Bribe is such a harsh word, though.
I prefer the term barter. She preferred I just go away.
"I like my job," she said.
So I moved on to Ali Carli, captain of the Ram girls basketball team and Larry Beets bobblehead ticket seller.
"Ali, how would you like to be the girls basketball Player of the Year," I asked her.
"I'm a senior," she said.
"Yeah, I mean, retroactively. I'll call Sthefany Thomas right now, tell her we made a mistake, and you - you! - can be basketball player of the year."
She just shook her head. She'd accept no offer.
"Beets is priceless."
Having started poorly, I was left with bribing ...errr, negotiating with the actual raffle winners. The first one was Shannon Eva, class of 2005, a former Beets player.
I skipped right past my Times piggy bank and coffee mugs to the big gun - the iPod.
"Dude, check this out," I said. "We're talking 453 songs. At 99 cents a pop, it is at least a $600 dollar."
But Eva shook his head.
"Beets is priceless."
Hmm hmm. Where have I heard that before? I persisted:
"Who's your favorite artist?"
"Uhhh ...second favorite artist?"
"Oh boy ...okay, how about Jermaine Jackson? He's good! Check it out!"
Eva, who bought only one lousy ticket, walked away.
The next winning ticket was held by 12-year-old Taylor Pesce, who has a cast on her left arm and right foot (cheerleading accident and a kitchen stool to the foot).
What little girl doesn't like an iPod nano?
Apparently, one with a better iPod.
"Mine plays video," she said.
Besides, she boasted, "I've known Mr. Beets since I was 4, and my brother is on the baseball team."
Watching the proceedings were 10-year-old Tyler Strouse and an 11-year-old named Cole Manion.
Strouse said he couldn't believe Pesce turned down an iPod.
So we struck a deal.
If he won, I'd give him the iPod. And the bobblehead would be mine.
I gave him a Times bank as a down payment, and we shook on it.
"So, how many raffle tickets do you have?" I asked.
"None," he said.
And he wouldn't give back the bank.
I returned to the press box, where they were getting ready to call the last winner. I sidled up to principal Randy Koenigsfeld, whose son, Ben, happens to be a pitcher and Player of the Year frontrunner, and flashed my ticket.
"You call these numbers," I said, "and Geoff Parker's ERA goes up, and his batting average goes down, and the path is cleared for Ben to win Player of the Year."
"Tempting," Koenigsfeld said.
Then he called six numbers that weren't mine.
Dejected, I walked out of the press box only to see Cole and Tyler running toward me, tickets held high.
"I won, I won, I won," Cole was screaming, waving his tickets.
I tried to get Tyler, still clutching that Times bank, to convince Cole that the bank was much cooler than a stupid old bobblehead.
Turns out, both kids have been to every baseball game this year, and Cole's dad, Toby, played on the first two Larry Beets teams in 1986 and '87.
"Kool-Aid drinkers," I muttered under my breath.
Just like that, I was finished. I'm not going to suggest the fix was in, but the results were verrrry interesting - a former player, the sister of a current player and the son of a former player.
No bobblehead for me. As I walked by the Rams dugout, I saw Eva and Toby getting their bobbleheads autographed by Beets, like a knife twisting in my back.
Driving home that night, I was filled with disappointment and dreading the morning.
I had some unpacking to do.
John C. Cotey, who would never in a million years really pack up a "special shelf" but thought it would be funny to include (the rest is all 100 percent true), can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6261.