|1998 Collector's Choice #125 Jaret Wright|
Jaret Wright is a real Cinderella story. He came outta nowhere. Well not literally nowhere, but from the other side of Cleveland. Ever since he was in middle school, he wanted to play in the NHL, hopefully for a future hometown Cleveland team when the NHL next expanded. He didn't exactly get his expansion wish, but eventually the IHL Cleveland Lumberjacks started play in the small arena near his house. He went to games as often as he could, and, as it turns out, minor league hockey tickets are dirt cheap in a city with NFL, MLB, and NBA teams, so he was practically a season ticket holder.
Jaret went to a small private high school, which didn't have a big budget for a hockey team, so he and his pals started a club team with some generous monetary help from their parents. However, Jaret knew he should help out too, so he tracked down the owner of the Lumberjacks (which is much easier to do for a minor league owner), Dr. Stevens, know as Doc, and talked him into giving him a job. He didn't really want to sell beer or tear tickets, so the owner told him he could drive the Zamboni. This very public task made Jaret a little nervous, but he figured it couldn't go too wrong. In the worst case, what could happen? He'd make the ice too smooth? He took the job despite not yet having a driver's license.
It is cold down near the surface of a hockey rink's ice of course, which Jaret hadn't really considered when he arrived for his first day of work. After shivering through the first intermission and consequently bumping the boards and glass with the Zamboni a few times - ok, more than a few times - he called home and asked his mom to bring him a hat a jacket. She felt a little silly for failing to do the typical mom thing and make him take one in the first place, but it was 80 degrees outside, so she could forgive herself. She grabbed his warmest pullover, which had the Indians logo, and figured she might as well get his matching fitted wool Indians hat so he'd look spiffy. Moms like using words like spiffy.
With 2 minutes to go in the second period, Jaret got his jacket and hat. He wasn't so sure about wearing another professional team's logos, but he didn't really have time to worry about it. He fired up the Zamboni and lined it up at the entrance to the ice. When he rolled into the ice, the public address announcer noticed his Indians gear and decided to have some fun with it.
"Ladies and Gentleman, we have a special guest tonight, straight from your Cleveland Indians!"
The crowd roared, as crowds often do when their favorite teams are mentioned.
"We're not sure who he is of course, but he definitely looks like he belongs on grass and not ice."
Jaret could hear the laughs from the crowd, and felt a little embarrassed. He did the only thing he knew how to do: roll with it. He tipped his cap to the fans as he drove by, and they all cheered for him loudly as he passed. It was mostly just to have fun, they weren't really seriously cheering him. When he finished smoothing the ice for the second period, he dismounted from his vehicle and got ready to go home. His boss stopped him and said, "whoa whoa whoa, we've got a 2-1 game here, this could easily go to OT, you're not off the hook yet."
Jaret watched the rest of the game, but no more goals were scored, so he finished cleaning up and went home for the night. He really started thinking about the crowd reaction, and wondered if that would happen any time he wore his Indians clothing. He decided he'd wear it another night to see how it went. The team was on the road for 10 days, giving him some free nights to practice his skating and shooting. He noticed he was slowing down a bit.
The next 10 days passed quickly, and Jaret went back to work. He decided to bring a baseball along as a prop to go along with his baseball attire. When the first period came to a close that night, he drove the Zamboni again, and the announcer played up his Indians gear again. Jaret decided to go for it, and flipped the baseball in the air just a few feet. He caught it and the crowd cheered. He started throwing it a little higher, and it was actually kind of impressive, and delighted the crowd. When he finished his circuit, the Doc was waiting for him. He thought that his 3 trips around the rink might be as far as he was going to get in this job.
Instead, Doc loved the gag. He ordered one of his lackeys to go straight to the sporting goods store and buy a few dozen baseballs. He didn't want anything fancy like an official Rawlings ball, but just the cheap ones with the weird sawdust-like substance inside. He directed Jaret that he would be tossing these balls to the crowd, reasoning that if Jaret could catch balls while driving, he certainly could toss a bunch of them if he didn't to worry about the catch. A Lumberjack tradition was born.
When he went out for the second intermission, the crowd cheered him without any prompting from the announcer. It seems everyone loves a gimmick. Jaret tossed one of his baseballs into the crowd, catching a fan off-guard and plunking him in the head. He flinched a bit, but the guy was ok and his friends were all laughing at him. Everyone in the small arena was paying attention now though, so he was able to safely toss the baseballs wherever he saw some kids, hoping the parents or surrounding adults would make sure they got safely to the kids.
The team noticed ticket sales started increasing. They finally found the secret to marketing long ago discovered by companies like Disney and McDonald's: hook the kids, and they'll annoy their parents to buy your product. The team ordered 5 dozen baseballs for every game, with another 2 1/2 dozen on reserve in case of extra intermissions for overtimes.
Jaret kept up the tradition, throwing out 60 or more balls a night. He thought it'd be cool to get some into the upper deck, but he could never quite reach it. The goalie on his hockey team told him he could help him out, and grabbed his glove. He told Jaret to just wind up and throw him the ball as hard as he could after every practice; his goalie glove could take the heat. Over a few weeks, Jaret's throws started getting harder, and he was also able to really place the baseballs near the fans he wanted to get them. The hard throws weren't a problem, as most of the arena was now bringing baseball gloves to the hockey games.
During one of the after-hockey throwing practices, Jaret's high school's baseball coach, Coach Weber, happened to see these two hockey players tossing a baseball around. Always on the lookout for someone who could play, he watched for a few minutes. He was amazed how hard Jaret could throw, and his accuracy.
You can probably imagine what happened from there. Jaret became a two-sport star at his high school, and got drafted by his hometown team. But it was baseball, not hockey, that would become his career. When Upper Deck showed up at the stadium to take photos of all the rookies, Jaret asked them if they wanted some off-the-wall shots. Since Upper Deck was putting out about 20 sets at that time, the answer was yes of course. They needed lots of different photos to avoid reusing the same shots and poses. Jaret told the photographer to meet him at the hockey arena in an hour, and went by his parents' house to pick up his old pullover. He called a pal at the arena to let him in, and got his photo taken sitting on that fateful Zamboni. Of course, due to trademark and licensing issues, Upper Deck couldn't show the Zamboni or any Lumberjacks logos in the background, but they really liked the shot. It was cropped, the background was blanked out, and it became Jaret's favorite card.
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