Chance meeting with hero can be priceless

Feb 12, 2002 5:16 AM

Sitting in a hotel restaurant, I overheard a woman relating a story about how her son met Arnold Schwarzenegger in the MGM Grand a few years ago. She thought it ironic that her young son’s recollection of “Sin City,” with its bright lights, fast life, girlie shows, and thrill rides, was going to be of meeting his boyhood idol in a Las Vegas casino.

The magic of “Sin City,” though, sometimes isn’t the least bit sinful and often, over the years, has involved people casually seeing and even meeting their sports and entertainment idols. That has always been part of the allure of Vegas.

I know the story of another young man who met a boyhood idol in a casino.

When he was just getting interested in baseball, he lived in a Jewish/Italian neighborhood in New Jersey. He was Jewish. His best friend was Italian. His girlfriend was Italian. His Italian best friend’s girlfriend was Jewish. And so it went. Half his relatives ””through marriage ”” were Italian. The only way to tell who was what in his neighborhood was by whether their surnames ended in a vowel or a “witz.”

When he decided to pick a favorite team to start rooting for, he chose the Cleveland Indians. Two of their greatest players were Jewish and Italian, respectively. And at the beginning of the 1957 season, since all his friends were New York Yankees, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants fans, any Cleveland Indians baseball card was easy to acquire. Two of the first he owned were a 1955 Al Rosen and 1957 Rocky Colavito rookie card. Rosen was their MVP third baseman and the young boy’s glove was a Rosen model. The boy’s bat was a Rocky Colavito model. Rocky became the Indians’ most popular slugger.

(The boy, all field and no hit, as they say in the vernacular of the sport, wore out the glove. But, he still has the bat, which sustained only minor damage having made very little contact with pitched baseballs. He’s also retained those cherished first cards.)

In 1977, that boy came to Las Vegas as a young man and got his first job with the now-defunct daily, The Valley Times. His first assignment was to interview the president of Caesars Palace. When he was given the casino executive’s name, totally out of context with his youth, he never gave it a second thought.

He just called Caesars Palace’s executive offices and set up the interview.

Cool as a news cucumber, who had covered everything from a police beat to obituary notices, he swaggered into the plush executive suites and announced himself.

He was cordially escorted into the prez’s office, where he noticed some neat sports memorabilia. He stared at the walls and desktop until the executive walked into the room and held out a welcoming hand. The young reporter was dumbstruck when he turned around to reciprocate. His intellectually profound first words were “How do you”¦er”¦ duh”¦ah”¦uh.” Suddenly the face matched the name. He was standing toe to toe with his boyhood idol, Al Rosen, in the executive offices of a hotel casino.

When you expect it, like at an Old Timers Game or autograph session, it’s an entirely different experience.

The interview went without a hitch, nevertheless. And, though it may have seemed out of professionalism, it was merely because he was still stupefied when the interview ended, that the young writer never asked Rosen for his autograph.

It wasn’t until about 10 years later that I finally managed to get Al’s signature on a baseball card. But, as those credit card commercials say: One signed baseball card ”” $15, that moment in his office at Caesars Palace ”” priceless!