CHICAGO — Western Carolina University was the last thing on my mind at 10 am on Easter Sunday.
It was time to worship in the greatest cathedral on earth—Wrigley Field. In this season of rebirth, the Cubbies are slowly moving the rock that has stood in front of their cave of hibernation for almost a century.
Standing in the Cubs locker room with six other reporters waiting for manager Don Baylor’s pre-game gush about what is wrong and right in Cubdom, something caught the corner of my eye.
Fear engulfed my body.
Financial aid. Tuition dues. Registration holds. What was causing these horrible flashbacks to the days of Cullowhee, now 16 months removed?
As my eyes scanned the scenery, there it lay—that beige envelope of horror donning the out-dated, three-step “Western Carolina University” logo. It was addressed to Cubs pitcher Kevin Tapani.
Why was Tapani getting the envelope of transcript torture? Maybe “Mean Gene” McAbee was after Tapani for unpaid parking tickets. What if his kid was sent to WCU but failed to meet the memory requirements enforced by the computer constabulary?
Perhaps Chancellor Bardo was seeking an autograph in hopes of proving his hypothesis that athletes can’t spell their own names.
Nope. There was an even greater calling: The Catamount Club.
Marty Ramsey, Alan Jordan and the old boosters are at it again with their annual summer auction at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte. And they are hoping to have myriad items from such star athletes as Kevin Tapani to auction off to over-imbibed fans and alumni.
“Tap” has been a minor blip on the SportsCenter radar screen during his 11 years of Major League service. But the silent righty has amassed 134 wins, a 4.34 ERA, eight double-digit victory seasons and a World Series ring.
Braves’ fans will recall his mastery in game two of the Fall Classic of 1991 while pitching for the Twins. Against Atlanta in the 1998 Wild Card Series, he held the Braves scoreless until a ninth-inning homer by Javy Lopez knotted the game 1-1, with the Cubs losing 2-1 in 10 innings.
During his career, Tapani has also emerged as one of the game’s truly good guys. On Easter Sunday morning he was busy opening fan mail in front of his locker while Sammy Sosa, roosted not 10 feet away, was blaring some unintelligible techno-salsa tune on the speaker system that sits in an empty locker across from Tapani’s.
The frayed WCU parcel was atop a heap of at least 25 others filled with baseball cards of Tapani and one request for the hurler to get Sosa’s autograph. A stack of cards sat waiting to be autographed at the foot of Tapani’s chair.
He read the letter and placed it on a perch inside his locker. When asked about the letter and told of this reporter’s alma mater, he mentioned the specifics of the Catamount Club auction and seemed willing to assist the Club in its mission.
WCU and Tapani’s alma mater, Central Michigan University, have never met on the diamond, the gridiron or the court. So there’s no bad blood between the schools, which bodes well for the Catamount Clubbers.
The Clubbers may not be beating down the door to get at Tapani’s piece of memorabilia, especially when Super Bowl tickets are on the line. But I can tell you that the lucky recipient of Tap’s item will have a baseball artifact that any parent should be proud to tell their kids of the positive merits of its former owner.