Contact with major leaguers? Few but memorable

The question asked for direct and indirect. I have one story of each, both of which involve my dad.

In 1967, I started playing Little League, and decided I might want to be a major league player some day. Dad mentioned that one of the men that hung out in the Havana, Arkansas cafe/pool hall played in the majors. He introduced me one day when I was there, but I was 8, I didn't really care to talk to him about baseball--or anything else. He was OLD (I am roughly the age he was then). Still, I'd see him some over the next few years, and never did talk to him about his time in the show. His name was James Elton Walkup--he used the middle name in real life--and he has this entry on the Baseball Almanac website for his career--all but the last 7 games with the St. Louis Browns (he finished with the Tigers in 1939)

6 Years 116 53 34 16 38 .296 6.74 11 1 0 462.1 2,195 614 346 381 49 260 - 134 20 5 1 -

Just a few miles east of Havana (population 273 when I was growing up) was the town of Belleville( population 277). We lived closer to Belleville, but I went to school at Havana. In Belleville, there was Sain's Service Station. I don't know how old I was before I knew that it was owned by Johnny Sain. I suspect it was after I read BALL FOUR in 1970 (yeah, I read it when I was 12--several times). But I never met him--he didn't live around this area in the off-season, coming in to see family now and then, I suppose.

About a year or so before my dad died (2004), he ran into Sain in town, and asked if he would autograph some balls for his grandsons. Sain said he would, and Dad went to buy some. Expecting only his name, Sain instead wrote a lot--including something like "last pitcher to face Babe Ruth, first pitcher to face Jackie Robinson" and gave some other information. I would love to look at the ball my son received now to see what it said, but I don't know where it is. My son moved in the past two months, and when I asked today, he said he didn't think he had it with him. Too many places to look in this house to try to find it right now--the NCAA tourney is on! :)

My son doesn't care one whit about baseball in general or players from my hometown in particular. He won't care too much that his grandfather got it for him--Dad died when Conor was 6, and he has few memories of him. However, I have two fond memories associated with him that this thread called to mind--his efforts to introduce me to a real MLB player and to secure baseballs from a patient Johnny Sain for four grandsons that couldn't care less about the game.