By Micky Fan

A Prequel to, Baseball at the Speed of Light*
*A Series Exclusive to Archer Seating Newsletter; beginning January,2012

Christmas was a great time in our family. I loved everything about Christmas, and my parents always made it really special for my sister and me.

The only thing about Christmas I didn’t like was that baseball season seemed a million years away. In Fargo, North Dakota, winter comes early and stays late. Spring training usually takes place inside the school gym until the ground thaws and the wind chill gets out of the single digits. Even with the cold and eventually, when we did go outside, all the mud, I loved Spring training and I was crazy about baseball.

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season was the time off from school. From mid-December until the week after New Year, we were free to just have fun and enjoy ourselves. My friend Oscar and I had the entire week planned. Actually, to be honest, it was pretty much all my plan.

As we walked home that last half-day of school on the start of the holiday, I told him all the plans I had in mind.

“You got it?” I asked Oscar. “We meet every day after we get the stuff done for our families.”

Oscar nodded, then frowned.

“What?” I asked.

He pushed his glasses up on his nose and stared at me with a very serious expression. He looked so much like our old history teacher that I almost laughed.

“What’s wrong?” I asked again.

“My mom has all this stuff planned for the week — like shopping. Blech.” He made a disgusted face and stuck out his tongue. I had to laugh then.

“Yeah my mom and dad do too. But your mom has to work some time. You’re so lucky she lets you stay alone now.”

“She knows I’m responsible,” Oscar said. He blinked at me, very serious. Now he looked like an owl.

“Yep. I could handle it too but I have a built-in bossy sitter.” I grimaced. I was talking about my older sister. Every time my parents were away, she made a point of reminding me that she was in charge. She was okay, for a girl, and she helped me with stuff. I tried to just stay out of her way when she got like that.

Oscar frowned at me again.
“Jackie’s not bossy,” he said. “She’s just…” He trailed off. Now he had a sappy half-grin on his face. I groaned and shook my head.

“Come off it!” I pounded him on the shoulder. “Focus!”


“That didn’t hurt you baby. Look, I have it all planned. I even wrote it down.” I pulled a tattered piece of paper from my back pocket. It had been folded so much that the creases were almost like cuts in the paper.

“Noon to 1:00 PM: Practice.”
Oscar blinked at me. “Practice what?”
“Hitting, fielding…you know. Baseball.”

“What?” Oscar groaned. “Come on! Spring practice is ages away.”

“Yeah? And you think anyone else will be practicing?”


“Exactly. So we’ll have the jump on everyone.”
“Sure we will. They’ll be indoors,” he said. “They’ll be warm and cozy and eating Christmas cookies. We’ll be outside freezing our…”

“Nah! I planned it out. My dad goes to the Y every day on his lunch hour to work out. We go with him and we can toss the ball around in the gym. It’ll be deserted this time of year. Everyone’s out doing all that Christmas stuff.”

“And Hanukah.”

“Yeah that too,” I said.

“And Kwanza!”

“Look, the point is, we won’t be interrupted. My dad works out for about 40 minutes then takes a shower. We’ll have almost a full hour to practice.”

“Okay.” Oscar nodded and pushed his glasses up his nose again. He was a little kid, smaller than most kids our age (almost 11). His glasses looked like they were too big for his face and constantly slid down his nose. His eyes were always big and curious, and the gold-framed glasses made his eyes stand out even more.

“But we have to check out the pool while we’re there,” he said.

I just stared at him.

“For what? Sharks?” Was he nuts?

“For girls, duh.”

“Oh!” I had to grin. Oscar had a good brain in his head. “Okay sure. But only for a minute. We have work to do.”

“You should be a drill sergeant when you grow up, you know that?”

“Nah I’m going to play for the Yankees.”

“Right. Short stop.”

“Yep. And you’re…”

“…going to be a catcher. I know.” Oscar shrugged. “I think I’d rather invent a time machine.” He stared off, lost in thought.

“Okay yeah in your spare time. Now look!” I rattled my paper at him and read from it.
“Noon to 1:00 PM: Practice. 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM we go to the library and check out the movies. They get new movies back in every day. I bet they have 61* by now.”

“What? We watched that like ten times already.” Oscar frowned at me again.

“I know,” I said. He was right. I couldn’t help it. I loved that movie and I was named for one of the main characters in it, Roger Maris. It was too bad my parents didn’t name my sister Mickey for the other famous player in the movie (Mickey Mantle).

“I’m not watching that movie again, at least not for a while,” said Oscar.

“Okay well — we’ll find some other baseball movie. Then we check out the sports magazines. Then…” I squinted at my writing. “Oh, ‘2:00 to 4:00 PM: Watch a movie. 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM, go to Dave’s to check out the new baseball cards.’”

“There’s never anything new except — well the new stuff,” Oscar said.

“That makes sense Oscar,” I said, deadpan. He laughed.

“You know what I mean. No one is selling vintage cards any more,” he said.

“Okay but you never know.”

That conversation took us all the way home to Oscar’s. Usually, Oscar usually had to go right inside and start his homework, then start supper. His mom was the head of the Emergency Room doctors at Sanford Hospital, and Oscar was learning how to heat stuff up really well. “I never dreamed how amazing it would turn out to be.”They had a cook that made all their meals once a week then froze everything. All he had to do really was set the table and heat dinner.

But since this was a half day, Oscar had lots of time. We kept talking about the week as we walked to my house next-door. We didn’t even worry about homework. It could wait. We had the whole week ahead of us. I just knew it was going to be a great vacation, but I never dreamed how amazing it would turn out to be.

– * – * –

On Christmas morning, three days later, I woke up to a world covered in snow. Everywhere you looked for as far as you could see, everything was covered in heavy white powder. I wished I had a camera right then. What a great picture that would make! I checked the computer weather site and Fargo got ten inches of snow in the night. Cool! I was hoping for something like this. One of the things on my list (“sledding at the hill down the street”) couldn’t happen unless it snowed. I was really excited. Oscar and I were going to have a great day.

When I got down to breakfast, I found out my parents had something else in mind for the day. My grandparents were there. They drove in from Grand Forks the night before. I loved my grandparents, but I couldn’t exactly drag them to the hill to go sledding with us. I knew that would have to wait. Besides, my Nana and PopPop were pretty cool. They were my mom’s parents. My dad’s mom and dad died when he was little. I always wondered about them and wished I could have met them. My dad got along great with my mom’s parents, and when I came downstairs everyone was laughing.

Christmas music was playing on the radio and dad had the fire going in the fireplace. My sister was dressed already and had a red bow in her hair. The whole house smelled like apples and cinnamon. We didn’t have a sit-down breakfast for Christmas morning. Mom made her homemade apple muffins and we drank hot chocolate (or the disgusting coffee grownups love). Then we took turns opening our gifts. It took longer that way because you had to wait while everyone opened their gifts one-by-one, but I liked it. It made the whole thing last longer.

After we were all done a couple of hours later, I had some really nice presents. My grandparents bought me a Yankees jacket with the number “9” on it. My dad got me two amazing vintage cards, one Boon Powell and one Lou Brock. My mom got me a digital camera and my sister got me a navy blue and white scarf with the Yankees “NY” logo on it. I was really happy with my presents. Little did I know that the best gift of all was still under the tree.

When everyone was done unwrapping gifts, mom reached around behind the tree.

“What’s this?” She tried to look surprised, but she couldn’t help grinning. She squinted at the tag.

“Hmm. I can’t read this,” she said.

“I’ll read it!” said Jackie. “I have perfect vision.”

I rolled my eyes. Miss Perfect. She had perfect grades too and perfect teeth and she was the best soccer player on her team. She was okay but sometimes her perfectness was annoying.

Was this a joke? I glanced up at my parents and saw weird excitement on their faces. Mom smiled at Jackie. “I know you do, hon. Let’s see if Roger can read this.”

“I’ll try,” I said. As I took the little square present from my mom, my heart started to beat harder. Something about the way my parents and grandparents almost seemed to hold their breath gave me a hint that this was something special.

It’s so light, I thought. It feels empty. Was this a joke? I glanced up at my parents and saw weird excitement on their faces.

“Go ahead, read it,” said my mom.

I read the tag out loud.

I was named for someone.
Think of the Number 61.
Now take 50 away.
This is for his special day.

What the heck? I thought. Just then the door bell rang.

“Right on time!” my mom said. “Roger, don’t open that until you figure out the riddle. I’ll get the door.”

“What in the world does that mean?” my sister Jackie asked.

Good question. The number “61” caught my eye. That was a big important number in baseball history. In 1961, Roger Maris hit 61 home runs and was the first guy to break Babe Ruths’ 1927 home run streak of 60 home runs in one season. Aha! So Roger Maris — I was named for him. The rest of it was confusing me.

My mom came back into the room just then.

“Look who’s here!” she said. I looked up and saw my best friend Oscar and his mom Ruth in the doorway.

“Merry Christmas”!” everyone seemed to say it at once. My mom took their coats and my dad introduced Ruth and Oscar to my grandparents. Oscar grinned and sat down on the floor next to me.

When my mom came back to the room she said, “Roger read that again out loud so Oscar and Ruth can hear it.”

I cleared my throat nervously. Oscar’s mom always made me nervous. She was gorgeous — a real babe. That made me laugh when I thought of it. Babe Ruth. I snorted.

I looked up and everyone was staring at me.

“Sorry,” I said. I could feel my face blushing.

“Okay it says:

I was named for someone.
Think of the Nnumber 61.
Now take 50 away.
This is for his special day.

“I think the someone is me.”

“No duh!” said Jackie. She rolled her eyes. Next to me, Oscar snickered.

“Shhh!” said my dad.

“Good job,” my mom said. “Did you figure out the rest?”

“Not yet.” I scratched my head.

“Well, actually…” said Oscar.

“No helping!” said my dad.

“Darn,” said Oscar. I should have known he’d already figure it out. I grinned at him, then read it again in my head.

I was named for someone.
Think of the Number 61.
Now take 50 away.
This is for his special day

I had it! If you took 50 from 61 it made 11. I was going to be 11-years old in January, in less than three weeks.

“It’s for me, for my 11th birthday,” I said. I felt sort of proud when everyone cheered.

“Well, open it!” said my mom.

I did. I lifted the lid carefully. Inside was a folded up piece of paper. I unfolded and read it out loud. There was a date written on the paper and under that an address. That’s it.

I gave a shout.I knew exactly what that was.

I gave a shout I knew exactly what that was. Oscar was behind me, looking over my shoulder.

“What’s in Cooperstown, New York?” he asked.

“Ha! I know something you don’t, you mean?”

“Obviously,” he said. He stared at me in with that owl-face serious look. I laughed out loud.

“January 17th is my birthday. And that address is to the best place on earth — the Baseball Hall of Fame.”

“Oh wow,” Oscar said. “That’s cool!”

It was cool.

I looked at my parents.

“When? How? How long? What…”? I couldn’t get my words out fast enough. My dad laughed.

“I have a business trip coming up that week. I didn’t want to miss your birthday and since the conference is only an hour from Cooperstown, your mother and I decided to make it a family vacation.”

…we did some sort of crazy dance kids do when they’re happy that usually involves fist pumping and dancing like a lunatic. “A family vacation plus one,” my mom said. She smiled at Ruth.

“What do you mean?” I asked. I looked at Oscar’s mom, then at my parents.

“It means,” Ruth answered, smiling, “that I bought a ticket for Oscar to join you.” She said more but both Oscar and I shouted at the same time and drowned her out.

“YES!!!” we both yelled. Then we did some sort of crazy dance kids do when they’re happy that usually involves fist pumping and dancing like a lunatic.

“Wow! This is such a great present. Thank you so much!!” I hugged my parents. Everyone was smiling at me.

“Thank you Mother!” said Oscar. He hugged his mom, then my mom, and then my dad. He tried to hug Jackie but she gave him that “yeah right” look, so he ended up standing there hugging himself.

“Wow,” I said. “This is the best Christmas ever. And it’s going to be one amazing birthday. Thank you so much!”

It was a great Christmas. Oscar and Ruth stayed for supper and we sang Christmas songs after, then watched old movies and ate some more of my Nana’s amazing pumpkin pie.

That night when I went to bed, I was still really excited even hours later. I couldn’t wait for January 17th. I looked out my window. The world still looked perfect with snow and the stars seemed so bright. What I didn’t know was that that trip to New York in less than three weeks would change my life so much that I would never look at anything – not even the stars — the same way again.

To be continued…next year! (i.e., soon! =)

Think of the Number 61: A Christmas Story
-and- Baseball at the Speed of Light
By Micky Fan © 2011, All rights reserved.

Dedicated to Ruth Johnson Archer and her son Damione Johnson.
Two bright stars in the sky, missed always.