Imagine, if you will, that you're a seven-year-old boy pulling that out of your first-ever pack of baseball cards: this Cedeno fellow is obviously ready for anything, dirty, coming out of a slide, grimacing, hatless, wearing that uniform that looked pretty damn cool to a seven-year-old boy in 1980.
My first real exposures to baseball both involved Cedeno -- finding that card in a pack purchased in Savannah, Georgia, and an early-'70s book of "baseball's new stars" checked out from the Heatherwood Elementary School library. (Sidebar: along with Cedeno, the book had entries on Nate Colbert, Jon Matlack, Amos Otis, Ralph Garr, Carlton Fisk, Vida Blue, and a few others that I can't remember. To my young mind, since these guys were in a book of "baseball's new stars," they must be stars -- and I couldn't figure the hell out why they weren't doing more in the year 1980. Aside from Fisk, I guess it should have more accurately been called "Baseball's Second-Tier Decent Players." However, there's a bonus -- all these guys have a certain level of cool in my subconscious.)
Where was I? Right. Back to Cesar Cedeno. In the manner of young kids who don't have a hometown team, I immediately adopted him as my favorite player, lock, stock and barrel. The back of the baseball card didn't hurt -- the ubiquitous Topps cartoon touted his achievement in hitting for the cycle back in 1974, and the comment at the bottom noted that Cesar was in the top three of every all-time offensive category in Houston history. Not freakin' bad, eh?
Of course, in the way I always did as a kid, I'd adopted a favorite player whose popularity really didn't extend out of his home market. Frustrated in my attempts to find a Cedeno-model baseball glove, I painstakingly copied the above signature onto a "neutral" model. When "The Baseball Bunch" started, I just assumed that Cedeno would be showing up as a guest soon, to the point where I was afraid to go on family weekend camping trips because I was sure that week's episode would feature him.
Cedeno was traded to the Reds fairly early on in my baseball-watching life (about the time "The Baseball Bunch" started, actually), which probably blocked me from becoming a long-term Astros fan. He went on to play a couple seasons with the Cardinals and Dodgers, before retiring.
Last I heard, he was a roving hitting instructor for the Astros, a term that always seems just a little bit shady -- like he's riding the rails throughout the South, bat over his shoulder, appearing suddenly in small towns and teaching players to hit -- then hitting some roadhouse bar, getting in a fracas and hitting the road again.
He never quite lived up to the Hall of Fame predictions, but had a solid career. And one hell of a baseball card.
* * *
#20 -- "Outsider in Amsterdam" by Janwillem van de Wetering (re-read)
I read all the "Amsterdam Cops" novels right after finishing college, and have been kind of itching to pick 'em up again. This, the first one, isn't quite as illuminating/thoughtful as I've convinced myself over the years, though it is really good fun. More quirky and endearing than action-packed. I think the later novels got a bit more intellectually heavy, and even though I really shouldn't be reading stuff I already have, you know I probably will.