Rocky Mountain News
Rocky Mountain News dated January 5, 2008 page 31. The column is called Foul Balls

"JOHNSON: Foul-ball column a home run with reader"

By Bill Johnson, Rocky Mountain News (Contact)

Saturday, January 5, 2008


This column should have said a baseball given to him was signed by Janessa Ulrich, pitcher.

Let's have some fun today, all of it courtesy of my mailbox, which is every day the proverbial box of chocolates: You never know what you're going to get.

My favorite letter of last year - perhaps of all time - arrived a few weeks ago.  Actually, it wasn't so much a letter than a large envelope that bore the handwriting of a young girl.

To explain its contents, I have to back up some.

In a column last summer, I griped about never getting a tipped-off-the-bat, honest-to-goodness Major League foul ball.

It was also a rant about when an adult is lucky enough to grab one, everyone around him or her begins the ridiculous chant of "give it to the kid!"

You may remember that I looked up an expert on the subject, a young man who believes he holds the record for most foul balls snagged, who agreed that I should sooner hand over my right lung than ever handing my foul ball to a kid whose only effort was sitting near me.

The point is, I attended well over 40 games this past year, including Opening Day in L.A., and a Sunday Rockies day game in Baltimore when I was out visiting the kids. I followed almost all of my expert's rules and advice.

And I never once got a foul ball.

And then, the mail arrived.

"Dear Mr. Johnson," Janessa Ulrich's letter began. "My grandparents and I read your column, and we were touched by the fact that you wanted to catch a baseball when you attended the games.

"Our baseball team is the Denver PAL Mustangs. We play at the Pecos Community Center. Our coach is Jamy McCullum. "On June 16, we played our last game, so we asked Chris the umpire for the game ball.

"On behalf of our team: Moni, Roger, Santiago, Adrianna, Chubs, Christian, Jesus, Keetch, Reuben, Jorge and Gage, we would like to present this ball to you."

She signed it, "Jessica Ulrich, pitcher."

They put my name on the enclosed baseball alongside, "From the Mustangs. 2007."

I don't care if I snag a bucket-full of Major League baseballs over the next 50 years, not one of them will mean as much to me as this one.

This next letter was not actually addressed to me, but to Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler. It was a three-page missive written by John P. Cardie of Westminster.  He thought I might want to share some of it to help kids.

"Dear Mr. Jay Cutler," it begins in the man's own hand. "Just a note to say 'thank you' for reinforcing a proper child-rearing principle that I am trying to instill in my grandsons. . . ."

The letter tells of how his son is the successful and quite busy owner of seven businesses. The son asked his father to "brainwash" his four grandsons the way he did him as a boy.

He explains how he is teaching the boys what he calls the "Ten Steps to Incarceration," which he says every young boy needs to know and avoid.

Step One, he writes, is "always wear your baseball cap on backwards."

To John Cardie, everything else flows from this one thing. It is the "genesis" of all bad behavior, he said in an interview Friday.

Steps 2 through 10 are things like "Start wearing bizarre-looking clothing," "Start smoking," "Grotesque body piercing" and, of course, "Tattoos" - "convicts are over 19-times more likely to have a tattoo than the general public," Step 7 asserts.

"Mr. Cutler, it all starts with wearing a baseball cap backwards. The moment a kid starts wearing his backwards, his I.Q. drops 15 points."

On Page Three, John Cardie finally explains to the quarterback the thinking behind the letter, how he and Conrad, his 7-year-old grandson, were watching the Broncos play Houston, how Jay Cutler threw a pass into triple coverage that was nearly intercepted, and how the TV announcer, citing the quarterback's young age, called the pass "dumb."

"Shortly afterward," the letter continues, "the camera showed you sitting on the bench distraught, and wearing your baseball hat on backwards. My brilliant grandson quickly recognized the problem: It wasn't your youth, it was your hat!  I agreed."

John Cardie is 65 years old and retired, the author of How to Beat Granddad at Checkers.  He now teaches chess and checkers on cruise ships, at high schools, senior centers and libraries.  His oldest grandson, Colton, 9, is the 2007 World Youth Checkers champion. Conrad is the national champion.

"Neither ever wears their hats on backwards," he told me.

I asked if he had ever heard back from Jay Cutler.

"Nah," John Cardie said. "I never really expected to."

"And I don't know if it was coincidence or what, but ever since I wrote that letter, I never saw him once with his cap on backwards.

"Maybe he did read it and figured doing that really was a bad influence on kids."