Sometimes life throws you a curveball or three. Just ask Jason Cole, a chef at Mitchell's Fish Market in Brookfield Square.
When Cole was about 7 years old he got a chance to meet Robin Yount at a Sears store in LaCrosse. Though he waited in line, when it was his turn, he – and Yount – realized Cole had nothing to for the Brewers' star to sign.
"He was my favorite player – probably a lot of people's at that time," remembers Cole. "We waited in line for what seemed like an eternity. Well, I didn't have anything (to be signed). They had some black and white photos copied onto paper but Yount decided I needed a ball."
Yount being Yount, curveball No. 1...
"He took me over to the sports section, helped me pick out a Rawlings ball, bought it and signed it," Cole recalls. "I think that was about the coolest thing that could happen to a young baseball fan!"
But the love affair with that treasured ball was a brief one, says Cole. Curveball No. 2.
"I guess I didn't realize how special it was. Like a dummy, I took it out and was coaxed into playing some sandlot baseball with it and eventually I lost it. I think I searched for that ball for about a month. I was so upset at myself for losing that ball!"
OK, maybe that was more a knuckleball.
Though Cole learned to live without the ball, he never forgot about it, and the story of how Robin Yount bought him a baseball and signed it – and of how Cole lost it in a pickup game – became a recurring tale in his life.
"My wife has heard this story a million times," he says. "She was probably sick of it!"
His wife Kim works with my wife. So, though Jason – whom I'd never met before – is only discovering this part now, I'd heard about the quest for the ball early in summer. Kim was determined to get him a replacement for their third wedding anniversary on Aug. 22.
She knew that the Brewers' Davey Nelson was a customer at the now closed Kincaid's and had met Jason when he was chef there.
"I hope you don't mind my writing to you," she wrote in a letter to Nelson. "I have a bit of an odd request that I'm not sure how to fulfill. I hoped you could help.
"Jason is a wonderful husband and an amazing father to our baby daughter. It is our third wedding anniversary this year ... I want to get him something special and have an idea for a gift that he would treasure."
Kim says she always aims to get anniversary gifts he will keep forever. "I had this gift idea in the back of my mind for a couple of years and this seemed like the perfect opportunity," she says.
You got it, folks, another curveball and this time, one that Kim and Davey would work together on to send up, up, up and outta here. Kim says that Nelson and Yount really came through and never asked for anything in return for the signed ball.
"She knows Yount is still my favorite Brewer of all time and I've recently started a small collection of baseball memorabilia – bobbleheads and jerseys, that kind of stuff," says Cole. "We are planning to finish our basement this winter and I'll be displaying everything there. I don't have any autographs and I had been lamenting that lost ball a lot lately."
Recommended gift for a third anniversary? Leather.
"She has always been a really good gift-giver, puts a lot of thought and effort into it. But this tops it all. I can't compete with this. Can you?"
Cole says he had no idea that Kim was working on securing this pitch-perfect anniversary gift.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was a huge surprise and it really meant a lot to me that she did this. I didn't cry, but I might have come close," he says.
"When I gave Jason the ball, he said, in disbelief, 'What is this?' and then not much else," Kim recalls. "He was literally left speechless for a few moments. I got a big hug and he told me it was the most meaningful gift he'd ever received. He took pictures with his iPhone and texted them to his parents and some friends. Then he put the ball on the mantle in our living room. I let him leave it there for a few days.
"My friends keep telling me that I've set the bar too high for next year, and they might be right. The year four gift is flowers. They also tell me that they won't tell their husbands this story for fear of setting unrealistic expectations."
So, Jason, can we go outside and toss that new baseball around a bit?
"Ha ha, never. It sat in a case on our mantle for a few days before my wife made me move it to my shelf in the office with the other memorabilia I have. I think I'll leave it there. At least until my daughter needs to learn to catch.
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