Young fan Derek Ackley’s initial quest for an autograph from his idol Kirk Gibson, would ultimately lead to his becoming a New York Yankees fan.
“Athletes have a bigger impact on fans than they may understand. Kirk Gibson had a major impact on I, Derek Ackley.
Here is a story detailing my quest in attempting to obtain his autograph in the 1980’s, and how, to a greater extent, I ended up a Yankees fan.
As a child, I remember spending every waking hour outdoors, playing ball in one form or another. When I wasn’t at the neighborhood sandlot with the boys, I was at the outdoor racquetball courts with a tennis ball and glove working on my pitching technique.
Living in the small town of Toledo, Ohio, loyalty typically stretched as far as Detroit or Cleveland. Having been raised as a Tigers fan, little did I know they were on track for what would become one of their best seasons; A record of 98-64 and a playoff appearance, before losing in the ALCS to the Minnesota Twins 4-1.
The influence a professional athlete has on a child can be measured up to the equivalence of a parental role model. Children fantasize about becoming the next superstar. As a child of about eight or nine years old, I was a huge Detroit Tigers fan, but more importantly, a huge fan of Kirk Gibson.
During the spring, the Detroit Tigers would have a charity exhibition matchup against their farm team, the Toledo Mud Hens. It was a spectacle to see our favorite athletes come to our hometown to play our local team.
The likes of superstar caliber players such as Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Chet Lemon, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris to name a few. All would take the field for a nine-inning showcase, ultimately giving us a preview of the team that will be competing for a pennant the upcoming season.
After the charity exhibition, it was common to go down by the clubhouse to snag an autograph or two from your favorite ball player, both Mud Hens and Tigers’ players.
It started to rain towards the end of the game, but I was determined to snag an autograph of my favorite ball player, Kirk Gibson.
As the minutes passed, the rain gradually starting coming down harder. Players would trickle out one by one. After about one hour of waiting in the cold Ohio rain, the door opened, and out came my hero, Kirk Gibson.
I walked over to him with my marker and, game program extended, said “Mr. Gibson, may I please have your autograph?” Instead, not even bothering to give me a look, he said “Not today kid,” and proceeded to walk towards his car with the local news sports anchor.
I was devastated.
Now Kirk Gibson’s life went on of course, and he doesn’t even know I exist.
Why should he?
I was a mere child whom he had never seen his entire life, yet I knew everything about him. Athletes have to deal with the fans day in and day out.
I’m sure it gets tiring.
Yet, they don’t stop and think about the impact they have on other peoples’ lives. A small gesture like an autograph for a little boy who waited in the rain would have made my year.
Instead I moved on.
I was actually so heartbroken over this I stopped caring for the Tigers. As I entered my teenage years, and my childhood days of living on the sandlot were fading, I still loved the sport, but didn’t follow it as closely.
Until a young shortstop for the New York Yankees named Derek Jeter entered the scene.
And once again my love for the sport was reborn.
I never did get a Kirk Gibson autograph. Instead I witnessed Yankees’ history during the course of my 23 years as a fan.”