Long before he was famous for getting all up in Gibby's mug, Theodore Roosevelt "Lefty" Lilly was just another promising youngster in the Montreal Expos' organization. After being drafted by the Dodgers and kicking around the lower rungs of their system, Lilly was dealt to the 'Spos, and subsequently assigned to AAA Ottawa. It was 1998, and the world was essentially an optimistic place, because nobody had flown planes into buildings yet. Young Lilly arrived in the frozen north full of promise and vigour. The world was his for the conquest.
Long before my distinguished career as stay-at-home dad and would-be romance novelist began, I was but a lowly shopboy, just another moony young man convinced that a gig in a record store was but a short layover before the world offered me its riches. Then, as now, I loved records and baseball. When not working or listening to Guided By Voices, I might be found at Lynx Stadium.
One day, while minding the shop - smiling 'til it hurt, stocking shelves, making ornate displays celebrating the latest Hip release - a dark-haired young man came into the store and began browsing. Eventually he came to the cash with John Mellencamp's greatest hits CD. I rang him up, wished him a good day, and he was gone.
A few minutes later, he was back. "This doesn't work in my car," he said. I took the CD, tried it in the store's CD player, and found it to work fine. Still, being the customer-first sort of guy that I was, I offered him a replacement copy. He left again, only to return a moment later. The scene replayed itself twice more. He was nice about it, so I kept offering him more copies.
Finally, after the fourth or fifth transaction, I asked him if he would mind showing me what his car stereo did when he put the CD in. Obligingly, he led me to the parking lot, where his very shiny and fast looking Ford Mustang, with California plates, sat waiting. He opened the door and climbed inside, then popped the latest CD into the slot. Nothing. Satisfied, I said, "I don't understand it, but if you want your money back, it's yours."
On the way back into the store I asked, in a casual and completely hetero way, what a guy from California was doing buying CDs in Ottawa. I think I kind of expected the answer. "I play baseball for the Lynx."
"No shit?" I said, "I go to Lynx games. What's your name?"
"Ted Lilly," he said, and he kind of swaggered, as if to say, "Remember it, cuz someday I'll be a 15 game winner in the Show." I was a bit taken aback; I'd seen him pitch earlier that very week.
We talked about ball a bit more, I gave him his money back, and he moved to leave, but before he did, he turned to me. A bit uncertain, he asked, "So you go to a lot of games?"
"As many as I can," I said.
"Maybe you can tell me, then," he said, and he paused, as if unsure that he should continue. Finally, through a hangdog expression, he managed: "Why don't more people come?"
And that is the completely true and totally amazing story of how I met Ted Lilly.