My Wildest Dream

I met Don Mattingly. No, let me elaborate… I didn’t just meet him; I interviewed him, one-on-one, for a solid fifteen minutes. Don Mattingly, one of my favorite players of all time, a living legend. And I did it while working for this very newspaper.

The opportunity came about after I received an e-mail at work regarding an autograph-signing event at a local ice-cream/sports memorabilia shop in Massapequa. My initial reaction? When I went home that day, I excitedly announced to my mother, “I want to go! Wouldn’t that be cool? I can get his autograph!” My mother just looked at me, perplexed, and said, “You can cover it, can’t you? You work for the paper, remember?”

Oh.

The fact that this notion had not occurred to me is testament to the occasional “blonde-ness” (with all due respect to natural blondes, of course!) that I am often teased about. Space cadet that I can often be, my immediate reaction was as a fan only; I guess I haven’t been doing this long enough for those “reporter instincts” to kick in naturally!

So, my priorities now properly in order, I contacted the public relations firm that had put out the press release and was told that, yes, they would love for someone from our paper to cover the event, and would I maybe like to speak with Mr. Mattingly prior to the signing? Would I?! Was that even a question?

I arrived at the event around 5 p.m. It was scheduled to run from 5:30-7 p.m., but the Yankee-Red Sox game that afternoon wrapped up late, so Mattingly didn’t arrive until shortly after 6 p.m. At that point, the line already stretched around the building, with more arriving every minute, and so I was forced to wait until the very end to do the interview (and to get my autograph). This wasn’t until around 9:30 p.m.  

It was worth the wait.

Once the crowd dispersed, the few people remaining headed into the back of the store where more items were lined up for Mattingly to sign for charity. A girl who worked for his agent explained to him who I was and would he mind answering a few questions while he signed? “No, not at all,” he replied in that soft Indiana accent of his, and motioned for me to stand next to him at the table.

I proceeded to go down my list of questions. To my pleasant surprise (although, in hindsight, I guess it shouldn’t have been a shock), Mattingly answered each question thoroughly, pausing to consider his answers first, and then carefully explained his responses in great detail – definitely not your typical 15-second sound bite. Often, he would stop signing to look me in the eye, making sure I understood what he was trying to say and letting me know, as he gently said from time to time, “Go ahead, I’m still listening. You can keep asking your questions.”  

It was as if I had known him for years. He was as down-to-earth and relaxed as you could hope…exactly as he has always appeared on TV through the years. The image absolutely matched the reality. He was a true gentleman, full of class, and extremely humble. Considering he had just been signing autographs for a solid three hours – twice as long as scheduled – he gave no impression of being bothered by any of it, no impression of being “above” such things as an interview with a local paper that he had probably never heard of. It’s so gratifying when your childhood idols end up being everything you hoped for, and more.

On the way home that night, my mother asked, “So, did you ever imagine you would have the chance to interview Don Mattingly while working for your hometown paper?" 

Never in my wildest dreams.

 

{Published: September 21st, 2005}