Keith Hernandez, The Highlight of My Weekend

Posted: April 16, 2013 by Crackin' Wax in General
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Most of my hobby and blogging friends don’t know this little morsel of information about me. I don’t just run Varsity Trading Cards and maintain Crackin’ Wax on the side. Let’s face it, while I’d like to think that I’m good at what I do with my company and while this blog and everything that goes along with it is a fun escape from reality, the reality is that I have bills to pay. Sure, I make some money with the company, but the problem with designing trading cards for student athletes is that, at least at this point, it’s not a steady year-round job. There’s always the initial push at the beginning of each sporting season, a few mid-season stragglers and a little push at the end. In between, and during the summer months, I have no reliable source of income. In order to balance out the stream of income and keep the mortgage paid, I wait tables at a hotel in downtown Minneapolis. I am not at liberty to divulge to you which hotel, but I can say that we do get visits by people, celebrities and dignitaries of all sorts–even some that we aren’t aware of (both because they think they’re all that yet none of us have ever heard of them or because they’re staying on the super down low).

Case in point, I found out that one of my all-time favorites recently stayed with us. It was a week after his stay that a billing inquiry came back confirming that a pseudonym was used for Terry Gilliam. I would have LOVED to have caught a glimpse of him walking through the lobby!

The upside to working at a hotel like this, as many in the field can attest, is that run-ins with higher-profile people become somewhat commonplace. Let’s be real, here, though. I’m not in L.A., I’m not in N.Y. It’s not to the point where I see more celebrities, athletes, etc. than I do middle-class folk. Getting exposure to the celebrity element on a more regular basis eases the nerves and allows you to treat them for what they are–people. Just like anyone else. Just with more money and different responsibilities.

The downside to working at a hotel like this, as many in the field can attest, is that professional conduct must always trump fanboy tendencies. While I would love to always keep a stack of baseball cards in my work locker to have signed by visiting ballplayers, following through with having them signed would be unprofessional, could look bad for the company and could end up causing the hotel to lose the team contract for any future stays. All of that would likely lead to my termination.

Of course, having all of the correct information for how to address certain people is absolutely vital in hospitality. Being the sports fan that I am, it’s usually fairly easy for me to recognize many baseball, football and basketball players without having to check out event orders and V.I.P. lists. Last year, the King and Queen of Sweden paid a visit and stayed at our hotel. I did not have access to the V.I.P. list, so I was unaware of who was who. You always knew when anyone in the Swedish Royal Party was nearby, so you at least knew when to put on your formal face. The secret service was always the first to drop by usually followed by the extended Royal family. One day an older couple dressed to the nines and surrounded by secret service made their way through a crowd of other members of the Royal Party. They shook hands, nodded and even bowed before eventually taking a seat in my section. In a panic, I asked the room service attendant assigned to the Royal Party if that was, in fact, the King and Queen. She verified to me that they were, indeed, the Royals. I was to address them as Your Majesty at all times and ONLY as Your Majesty. I approached the table and treated them as I would treat anyone else sitting in my section, except I addressed them both as Your Majesty. This, apparently, was the wrong thing to do. After receiving an awkward scowl and the silent treatment for the remainder of their dining experience, I became suspicious of whether they truly were the Royals. At the end of the meal, I retrieved their check which, to my surprise, was not being posted to a master check. Instead, there was a credit card within the check holder. “What is this,” I thought, “the Royal Credit Card?” I quickly scrawled down on a piece of paper the name imprinted on the credit card and, after returning payment to the couple, scrambled to the back, whipped out my phone and Googled the name Jonas Hafström. To my horror, I had improperly addressed the Swedish Ambassador to the US as “Your Majesty.” I quickly ran back to the room service attendant to relay the news of her false information. Her face went pale as she realized she had no idea who the Royals were. Thankfully, though, she had not yet interacted with them. The next day she told me she finally served them and that they were much older than the Ambassador and his wife. I did end up waiting on the Ambassador’s wife the following day. We discretely joked about my misinformation. ME: “I see the gentleman will not be joining you today.” SHE: “Yes, the ‘Ambassador‘ is with His Royal Highness.” We both smiled and quietly chuckled, realizing that it was funnier to us than it apparently was to the Ambassador. A few days later as the Royal Party was leaving, I finally did get a glimpse of the King and Queen and I can confirm 100% that I did not wait on them. I did find out, however, that they did drop by the bar one night. That must have been a hoot.

In my years of waiting tables for my current employer and other establishments here in the Twin Cities, I have had the privilege of meeting, talking with and waiting on a number of athletes, stars, politicians–you name it. My first encounter was with Jason Kubel. I ended up seeing him so often that he began to recognize me and know me by name. I’ve also waited on former Senator Rudy Boschwitz a number of times, much to my liberal chagrin. Sidney Rice once left me a $3 tip on his $80 check (just because they have money doesn’t mean they’re going to spend money). I once had the distinct honor of delivering food directly to the Dalai Lama. Like I said. I’m in Minnesota. I don’t see huge names all the time, and I don’t run into celebs every day, but I see enough of them now that, while it’s still cool, I don’t get all fanboy nervous.

When I found out that the New York Mets were staying with us during their 3-game Interleague series with the Twins, I was pretty pumped that I was scheduled each day of their stay. There was no guarantee that they’d stop down to the restaurant. As a matter of fact, it was so certain that they’d only order room service that we scheduled an overnight attendant during their stay. On the first day of their stay, a gentleman came down by himself for a quick lunch. He was waited on by one of our latino servers and, I believe, had a more comfortable experience being able to have a nice casual conversation in Spanish. Turns out that both he and our server were joking around with each other quite a bit. When our server claimed that he knew nothing about baseball, the player then introduced himself as Ruben Tejada. It later turned out that he was pulling our server’s leg. The player was actually Jordanny Valdespin. That was the only time during the series that I had seen any of the Mets.

Until the final game.

Marlon Byrd’s Autographed Meal Used Relic

Sunday was a cold, windy, snowy, rainy day. The game was scheduled for a Noon first-pitch start. With the weather promising not to improve for the remainder of the day, the game was quickly cancelled. The players, with no place to go until 6pm, filed into the restaurant for some breakfast. The first Met to wander into my section was Marlon Byrd. I recognized him right away. The huge gold-laden watch and MLB stitched shirt cuff also gave it away. Shortly after, Mike Baxter and Bobby Parnell made their way into my section. The funny part about my section that day was that it was a windowed room. In front of those windows were the autograph hounds that showed up each day. These poor guys had been standing out in the cold rain and snow for hours and had no idea that all of the players were just a few feet away from them sitting down to a nice, warm, hearty breakfast. Byrd was on his phone the entire time so I had no chance to chat with him. Baxter and Parnell seemed tired but were incredibly polite. I joked with them that their makeup date, August 16, would probably get snowed out, too. They must have either agreed or liked the joke because I heard them repeating the same joke to other players.

Other players that I noticed in the restaurant that morning that were not in my section included John Buck, LaTroy Hawkins (who had his personal attendant with him), Collin Cowgill, Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenheis, and the entire starting pitching rotation sat together at one table. David Wright, however, was not in attendance.

They began to filter out after they finished and paid. Their luggage was loaded up onto a freight truck. We assumed it was the last we’d see of them.

We were wrong. At approximately 1pm, there was only one table seated. The closing server and I were the only ones still on the floor. Since the brunch rush was over and we assumed the Mets were long gone by then, I let the closer take the rest of the tables so I could focus on cleaning up. Suddenly, nearly the entire team walked in. I kept letting her take tables, but it got to the point where our manager was worrying that just one server wouldn’t be enough. The other server was just fine, but I told her that I’d hop on for a couple of tables to keep things from getting crazy once word got out that the players were in a hurry. All of the players that had been in for breakfast, including a few more, were in for lunch. Valdespin even came back but, since I only speak a very small amount of Spanish, I was unable to get into chummy banter with him.

Then it happened. Mr. Keith Hernandez walked right past me and asked if he could just sit anywhere. What am I supposed to tell him? No? I followed him while he looked around for a good spot next to the gang. He pulled up a seat with another gentleman who I assume is his Mets SNY broadcasting partner, Gary Cohen, who had already finished his lunch. Mr. Hernandez. At my table. When I wasn’t going to be taking any more tables.

Mr. Hernandez. Without a mustache.

That’s the only thing that kept me guessing for a few minutes.

Mr. Mustache

Mr. Mustache

For those like many of my younger coworkers who are not familiar with Keith Hernandez, he is a popular former Mets first baseman most known for his mustache. Many people know him from the classic 2-part Seinfeld episode, The Boyfriend, in which he is hit by a magic loogie. Others may know him from his involvement in Just For Men commercials. For me, he was always one of the highlights of my childhood collection. Few names from that era spring to mind when I think of players I liked to collect, outside of the Twins, anyway. Jose Canseco, Nolan Ryan, Bo Jackson, Jim Abbott, Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez. Of course, Keith may not be as familiar to collectors and fans as some of the others on that list, but he was certainly memorable to me. Waiting on him was a pure pleasure. He was friendly, polite, and carried himself with good humor. He’d ordered a dish with “Minnesota” in the title and, upon checking that he was enjoying his order, I joked that you could really “taste the ‘Minnesota,'” to which he gave a sincere chuckle and response “I always wondered what Minnesota tasted like!” He could have given a sympathy snicker and quietly shooed me on my way, but he was genuinely kind. One of my childhood favorites was sitting at my table joking around with me. Unlike Dante from Clerks, I was supposed to be there that day, but I almost unwittingly gave up my chance to meet and serve Mr. Keith Hernandez.

SIDENOTE #1: Mr. Hernandez accidentally left his tablet at my table. I picked it up and flagged down his dining partner. When he yelled “Keith!” across the bar, it was then that it was absolutely confirmed that the formerly-mustached Met was actually Keith Hernandez.

SIDENOTE #2: After Mr. Hernandez left, I explained to our host, a young man fresh out of high school, who I had just waited on. Naturally, he didn’t recognize him. I told him that he is a famous Mets player from the 80s and 90s. He asked me to tell him who some other famous Mets were. I started listing off names like Nolan Ryan, Doc Gooden, Tom Seaver, Gil Hodges, Casey Stengel, Gary Carter. Poor kid had never heard of any of these greats. What is happening to our children!

  1. That’s awesome! The closest I can come to any stories like that is seeing the weatherman from the local NBC affiliate in the supermarket.

    The young man working as host didn’t know who Hernandez, Ryan, Seaver, Stengel or Carter were? He must be a Yankee fan!

  2. ….Accidentally posted before following my smartass comment with the appropriate rimshot.

  3. gcrl says:

    Cool. I used to run into visiting players in city center every so often. Lou piniella, Arthur Rhodes, Julian tavarez, mike Powell and manny ramirez come to mind. A couple weeks ago I walked into a restaurant/bar with (at the same time as) tim laudner and brunansky in bloomington. They were nice enough to Exchange pleasantries and chat for a minute.

  4. Andrew Quillen says:

    Very cool story! I would have a difficult time containing my fanboyism in a situation like that.

  5. Terry Gilliam?! Oh, man.

    I once had lunch at the table next to Stan Musial. It was all I could do to get my co-workers to quit staring and let him eat his meal.

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