"Mrs. Hufford was real nice," recalls Avery, who still exchanges Christmas cards with the woman. "She left a note in the morning that said, 'I would appreciate it if you and your friends would clean up after yourselves.' And she left a bucket of water and a sponge."
Clean up after yourself. It is a Robert Fulghum All-I-Really-Need-to-Know-I-Learned-in-Rookie-Ball adage in its simplicity, but one Steve Avery hasn't forgotten. Never clean up too much after throwing a party at someone else's place. That's another one he's picked up along the way.
He is still blinking from the bright flash of' last autumn, just beginning to recall shapes and forms from those days four months ago. He has just remembered that all receipts at Hudson's department store in Taylor in October were adorned with the message CONGRATULATIONS STEVE AVERY! The register-tape tribute is far more meaningful than, say, the day-in-the-life videotape he did during the Series with CBS's oleaginous Pat O'Brien. "I forgot about that," says Avery. "I haven't even watched that yet."
After Game 3 former president Jimmy Carter waited patiently in line at Avery's locker before introducing himself and offering congratulations. "I got a ball signed by him," says Avery, sifting through last season's rubble, "I got a ball signed by Dick Cheney. M.C. Hammer, yeah, he was in our clubhouse a couple of times. Charlie Sheen. Evander was there almost every weekend. Steffi Graf came to watch us once. I send the ball boys to get autographs. I don't think I could ask someone I don't know. I guess I'm too shy."
Isn't this Dante's seventh circle? Too shy to ask for autographs, Avery nevertheless must sign 1,500 photographs of himself that sit in a box beneath the kitchen table. There is a dinner and autograph show in his honor next weekend. The money raised will go to the Taylor Little League and to John F. Kennedy High, Avery's alma mater, which plans to build a new baseball field.
After playfully siccing a tongue-wielding Cyrus on a neighbor boy not long ago, Avery extended one of his autographed photos as an olive branch. Unmoved, the neighbor boy returned another day with a Nerf bow and arrow, ambushing Avery as he sat behind the wheel of his Pathfinder. But Avery was carrying his water Uzi at the time. There was a drive-by squirting. A full-blown turf war has erupted. Will the madness never end?
"Young kids like him because he can act crazy, like them," says Connie.
"Kids come to my door a couple of times a week," says Avery. "I was a Tiger fan growing up. That's why it was weird going through this World Series, because I remember how excited I was when the Tigers were in the '84 Series. Sometimes you forget that kids are looking at you the same way you used to look at others."
He still looks at celebrities the way the rest of us do, even though he has become one. This winter he has kept tabs on his more famous colleagues. "Deion was on Arsenio Hall last night," he says of teammate and good friend Deion Sanders. "Ted just got married...."
But Ted Turner—owner of the Braves, founder of CNN, husband of Jane Fonda and TIME'S Man of the Year—has nothing on Cyrus, who is off in a corner, eating an Adidas hightop. "Three months old," Avery says with some envy, "and he's already gonna be in SI."