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Birthday surprise is head shaker

By JOHN COTEY
Published June 2, 2007


The second my eyes locked in, everything else locked up.

I remember smiling. Looking up at my wife, Phuong. Smiling some more.

My brain was trying to work too hard and too fast, so nothing came out of my mouth. Hurry brain, hurry. Figure this out. Explain it to me. Make sense of it.

"Oh ..."

Relax. Slow down. There has to be a reasonable explanation. Why is she laughing like that. What's the story?

"My ... ."

Is it real? Can't be. Was there an extra one I hadn't known about? Brain? Help me; tell me.

"God."

When I finally exhaled, my 4-year-old son Jonathon was the happiest person in the room, and he didn't even know why. But he knew this: Dad had just opened his birthday present and was grinning from ear to ear, Mommy couldn't stop laughing, and something wonderful had just taken place.

He laughed too, as he tapped the head of little man with the white moustache and made it bobble up and down.

- - -

Let me be clear -- there is no need for Larry Beets to get a restraining order against me. I'm not obsessed with bobblehead dolls. I am not a weirdo who chases little kids around trying to bribe them with iPods.

Okay, so maybe that last one was true. Once.

Point is, the Larry Beets Bobblehead Doll grew beyond my control, and I went along for the ride. I had suggested it in the fall as a joke, knowing it was a brilliant idea but never thinking for a moment someone else would agree.

The night they handed out the only five Beets Bobbleheads on the planet, I tried to trade my way into one. But in that stadium, on that night when they named the stadium after the guy and hundreds of his disciples walked around with fistfuls of $5 raffle tickets, I had no chance.

Three were won via raffle. Two went to bidders in a silent auction. I went home empty-handed, with nothing but a funny story too tell.

The end.

Or not.

- - -

A few days after my story ran, I received a number of e-mails telling me how much they enjoyed the whole silly quest. Former Ridgewood pitcher Dave Doorneweerd offered me double for whatever I ended up paying one, thinking someone might actually part with their bobblehead.

One writer, Harry Mortner, told me he felt "a little" sorry for me.

"After all," he wrote, "you did start this whole thing."

Mortner, as it turned out, was one of the silent auction winners. He has been a friend of Beets for years, and now he had a bobblehead, and a little pity for me as well.

But Mortner said he was willing to part with his, provided I could come up with one of the following:

Golf at Copperhead

Guided fishing trip

Tickets to a Gators game

World Series tickets

Corvette parts

Fishing equipment

Vegas tickets.

I presumed he was joking. I chuckled, and after sharing the e-mail with Phuong, moved along.

My wife didn't.

- - -

Last week, the greatest wife in the world met Mortner in the parking lot of a Bonefish Grill in Trinity, as I sat in my office wondering what color iPod video the sweetest woman a man could know was out buying me, or if the most beautiful creature on the planet was going all out and purchasing a Blackberry I don't really need but foolishly crave.

"I hate shopping for you, you know," she tells me, often.

Turns out, Phuong had kept Mortner's e-mail. After failing to convince the company that had made the originally bobblehead to help her -- they wanted publicity she could not provide -- she turned to Mortner.

Hi, Mr. Mortner,

My name is Phuong Nguyen and I am a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times. My husband is John Cotey, the sportswriter who inspired the Larry Beets Bobblehead. I'm writing to you because I know you sent John an e-mail last month, saying you would be willing to part with the bobbleheaed -- for the right price.

John's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks and I would LOVE to surprise him with a Larry Beets bobblehead. I am unable to fulfill your wishlist, but I can offer you cash for it. If this is do-able, can you please name your price?

I called the company that created the bobblehead this morning and left a message for them on their answering machine. I'm not sure if they have an extra one or can get me one, so I figured I would cover all my bases and try you, too.

Again, no pressure. I wouldn't know unless I asked ...

Thanks for your consideration,

Phuong Nguyen Cotey

It took 11 hours for Mortner to respond:

"Since he started the whole thing, I really would like him to have it," he wrote back. "It's one of the best gestures I've seen done for a coach."

Mortner was willing to part with the bobblehead for what he had paid for it.

"I know it's a lot. Let me know."

Two weeks later, she met Mortner and reimbursed him for what he paid in the silent auction and drove home triumphantly.

- - -

When I first brought up the whole idea of a Larry Beets bobblehead doll, my first thought was -- man, one of those would be so cool on my desk.

I now have one. And it's too expensive to ever leave at the office.

I think they call that irony.

Or a proper ending to a pretty good story.

Officially, I have bobblehead fatigue, and I'm sure many of you do as well. I fear I can now be lumped in with the hiccup girl and Steve Stanton.

Enough already?

But you see, the hiccups, they stopped. And Steve? He became Susan.

Me, I never got the proper ending to my story until now.

Thanks, Harry.

And thank you, honey.

John C. Cotey can be reached at 813 909-4612 or johncotey@gmail.com.