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Chatting with Hall of Famer Andre Dawson

The thing about Andre Dawson was his presence in the batter’s box. A hulking, imposing man prepared to club opposing pitchers into submission. I never liked the Cubs, except that they played a lot of daytime baseball, which always fit nicely into my school vacation schedule on days when I needed a break from sweltering heat. But I always liked watching Andre Dawson play. He hit 49 home runs with 137 RBI in 1987, winning the National League MVP award ON A LAST PLACE TEAM!

I can count on one hand the number of autographs I got as a kid while waiting by the visiting players’ entrance/exit outside Busch Stadium after Cardinals games. Lance McCullers of the San Diego Padres, the late Eric Gregg, an umpire, and Andre Dawson. I can still see him carrying his bag to the team bus, stopping and towering over me with a throng of people around us. I had positioned myself as close to the door as possible, and the sidewalk baked under the brunt of the late-afternoon summer sun. Waiting and waiting. Always enjoying that blast of air conditioning when the door opened.

“Mr. Dawson, could you please sign my card?” I caught his attention, and he politely signed his 1988 Donruss Diamond King card. I felt light and accomplished, one of my indelible childhood memories. I got home and immediately placed the card in a small picture frame to display on my dresser for the next 25 years, even after I had moved out of my parents’ house.

And now here we are, many years later, and I get to chat with Mr. Dawson about his time at Florida A&M and the years before he became the menacing batter I watched on WGN. I didn’t tell Mr. Dawson about our encounter in St. Louis in 1988. I’m sure he’s heard those stories a thousand times. It’s more than enough to have the privilege of talking with him at length today, an adult conversation that’s beyond my timid childhood request for an autograph.

Here’s the piece from Black College Nines, which includes archival photos from Mr. Dawson’s FAMU days. You might be surprised to learn what Mr. Dawson really wanted to accomplish when he arrived on campus as a freshman.

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