He was a UPS truck of a man, 6'4", maybe 250 pounds, 55 years old, with a chin you could use to crack open coconuts.
He waited until the end of my little speech and then stood there in front of the podium, his eyes rimmed red with tears. No words would come to his mouth. He must have stood there for a full minute, trying to use all his muscles to force up a single sentence: "My daughter is dying."
He wept, then went on. "We just found out. Brain tumor. She's got a year to live. If she's lucky." He gave a huge sigh. "She lives for sports, you know? Would you write her a note? I don't know. Just something to cheer her up?"
I wrote something. It wasn't that inspiring. I told him how sorry I was. He thanked me and walked off. I felt helpless.
Now, after thinking about it, I wished I'd written her this....
If I had only next year to live, I'd do whatever it took to see, one last time, Michael Vick's happy feet, Allen Iverson's XL heart and Ichiro's bionic arm throwing out some poor slob at third who didn't even think he'd have to slide.
I'd chase goose bumps coast to coast. I'd make sure I saw Tiger Woods windmill a driver. I'd go to the Kentucky Derby paddock and watch the parade of thoroughbreds, dropping my Starbucks when I see how huge they are. I'd beg, cheat and bribe my way onto the Super Bowl field, so I could be there when the F-18s polish off the national anthem with a flyover that turns your spine into marmalade.
I'd go to Fenway and sit above the Green Monster, see Mia Hamm before she starts having tiny Olympians and go to a UCLA game to shake the 93-year-old hand of the wisest man in the land, John Wooden.
I'd see the Palio in Siena, hotwire a Ferrari and drive the Amalfi coast road, and see how long I could sprint behind Lance Armstrong as he melted another Alp.
I'd read Ball Four a few dozen times more, watch Slap Shot again, listen to Vin Scully call one last game on my transistor while I hooked up a steady IV of Dodger Dogs.