The 40-year reunion
February 27, 2013
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Americans living abroad often pine for home. So when Fox Sports and Major League Baseball teamed up to bring "Spring Training to the Troops" earlier this month, the community came out en masse for the rare chance to rub shoulders with some of baseball's greatest players.
But for 172nd Infantry Brigade's Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Boom, the visit marked the second time he'd met Rollie Fingers, ex-relief pitcher for Oakland Athletics and Hall of Fame inductee. Both meetings were monumental for Boom, a lifelong, diehard Oakland A's fan and Oakland native.
How great was Boom's fandom? When he was 13 years old, he stole a prized baseball hat right off the head of Oakland Athletics coach Vern Hoscheit.
All white, the hat strayed from the standard green and yellow caps worn by the fans. No one, explained Boom, could buy these hats in stores; they were made only for the coaches of the Oakland A's.
Boom coveted the hat and devised a plan while sitting above the dugout with his dad at an A's game in the early 1970s. When Hoscheit leapt up to celebrate the team's inevitable win, he would snatch the cap and run.
When Hoscheit jumped, Boom plucked the precious white hat off his head, sprinted to the parking lot and hid under his dad's car.
"I figured the whole Oakland police force was after me," said Boom, chuckling.
Growing up, Boom spent as much time as he could playing baseball and discussing the A's. He knew their statistics and athletes and even aspired to one day play for his home team. So naturally, for Fox Sports' visit, he jumped at the chance to escort Fingers, who played for Oakland from 1968-1976.
Boom and Fingers first met during the A's heyday in 1973, through his father's connections with then-catcher Gene Tenace. While Boom's encounter with Oakland A's lasted only long enough to snap pictures, Fingers and the rest of the team impressed Boom.
"Not one of them declined to take a picture with us," he said, adding that Fingers was "very cordial. A lot of athletes today are prima donnas. Back then, they were salt of the earth."
Forty years later, Boom's encounter with Fingers left him equally as impressed. Fingers was still humble, conversant and kind. The baseball great even gave the command sergeant major his business card, instructing Boom to call next time he's in Las Vegas so they can play golf.
But mostly, they talked baseball. The diehard fan got the inside scoop from the Hall of Famer on standout plays, memorable games and, particularly, Finger's renowned trick play against Johnny Bench during game three of the 1972 World Series (Google it. The sly move is considered one of baseball's greatest trick plays.)
Boom asked, too, about Fingers' Oakland teammates, wondering who he was close to and how they are now. Luckily, Fingers has remained close to his early career teammates through annual Athletics reunions and could recount the whereabouts and well-being of every man, nearly 40 years after they last played together.
"He almost knows of them like they're his brothers, his family," said Boom. "The community is a lot like Army veterans."
Boom also took the opportunity to ask Fingers if A's coach Hoscheit ever mentioned the rare hat stolen right off his head. Fingers said he hadn't, but knowing Hoscheit, that pilfered hat would have made him "'extremely pissed.'"