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by Mark Jent

A few weeks ago I received a large package from Amazon addressed to me, though no one in our house had ordered anything recently. It seemed suspicious from the outset. The return address was vague, so I was left to just rip it open to find out its contents. As soon as I caught the first glimpse of it, I immediately knew what it was, who it was from and why it was sent. You see, a week earlier my Dodgers had been swept in a three game series by the Cubs. It was a blue and white house broom to signify the sweep. 

I had been trolled.

Inside the assemble-at-home broom package was a nice “gift note” that Amazon was kind enough to include that was a letter from the Chicago Cubs’ Matt Duffy that read, “Go Cubs Go, Go Cubs Go, Hey Chicago what do you say, the Cubs are gonna win today!” (see featured image) As much as I’d appreciate a thoughtful gift from any big leaguer, I knew it was a farce and I knew who the culprit was.

You see, this was not the first time this individual had trolled me, nor will it be the last. It unwittingly started when we were kids at Christmas in 1988, and here we are now over thirty years later and the jokes continue. 

I’ve known Drew Bingham my entire life, or at least as far as I can remember. He grew up across the street from me in our small town of Lewisburg (TN). Our parents were friends back in their young married days – friendships that now span over five decades. Other than physical proximity of being neighbors, since I was three years older, we were not particularly close growing up. Yet from the time we were kids, we shared more than a street address on White Drive – we both loved baseball.

Drew Bingham is the most die-hard Cubs fan I know. He lives and dies with their thrilling victories and disappointing losses. He grew up watching Harry Caray on WGN and now Cubs radio announcer Pat Hughes is the soundtrack to his summer. His wife Natalie is just as big a Cardinals’ fan as he is a Cubs’ fan, so their house is a never-ending turf-war for the N.L. Central. He cried tears of joy in 2016 when Kris Bryant threw that ball across the diamond to Anthony Rizzo for the final out to end the 108 year drought. He was there in person that chilly night the next April with Natalie when the Cubs received their long-awaited and much-anticipated World Series rings. Drew vividly recalls each Cubs game he’s ever attended with great precision and accuracy. He’s the type of fan who not only knows the 25 man roster, but he’s already familiarized himself with the up and coming prospects who won’t be at Wrigley for years to come.
 

April 2017, Drew and I at Wrigley Field after the Cubs’ Ring Ceremony Night.

Recent Years
In recent years the two of us, along with fellow hometown friend Andrew Buzan, (a White Sox fan) have enjoyed the occasional trolling of each other when one’s team comes up short or gets embarrassed. Sometimes Andrew and I will surprise Drew’s wife Natalie with a Topps Now card when her Cardinals beat the Cubs. When the Cubs traded their ace starting pitcher Yu Darvish in the offseason, Buzan and I commemorated that occasion as well by dropping Drew a Darvish momento to remind him what his Cubbies just gave up. Last year they really got me when they sent me a MLB Opening Day Quarantine Care Package full of Howie Kendrick goodies. Yes, the same Howie Kendrick of the Nationals who ended the Dodgers 2019 season in the playoffs with a 10th inning grand slam of NLDS Game 5. It’s fun to spend a few bucks to make a friend laugh at their mailbox.

November 2020
Drew turned 40 in November. For his big birthday, Andrew and I decided it was the perfect time to troll him, so we spent $35 on a Cameo video. We hired out the Cleveland Indians’ postseason legend Rajai Davis to send Drew a birthday greeting. Davis hit an epic game-tying home run in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, which the Cubs would eventually win in extra innings. 

For the past five years Drew has always been mad at how there are more Rajai Davis game-tying HR highlights on MLB commercials than Cubs winning the World Series highlights. So Andrew and I did what any good friend would do – we told Rajai Davis that Drew was a HUGE Indians’ fan and that the HR he hit was the pinnacle of his baseball life. It was a Cameo of epic proportions. (Rajai if you ever read this, sorry we lied to you, but it was worth it!) 

Christmas 1988
But let’s rewind to that scene at Christmas 1988 that I mentioned earlier, the first time Drew REALLY trolled me. Our parents and two other couples who had been friends since their 20s got all the families together for a Christmas party. The annual tradition was that our mom’s would draw names of whose kid would buy another kid a gift. We would rotate houses each year from the two couples in Lewisburg (our parents) and the other two families in Madison, the Jordans and Hendersons. 

On this particular Christmas, I had just turned a very mature 11 years old, while Drew on the other hand was still in his prepubescent days and was only 8. The gifts were distributed and we were all told to “wait until everyone gets theirs,” which is agony for a kid. As the Christmas gift ripping began, I already had a pretty good idea what was inside my box so I just nonchalantly opened the package. 

Much to my surprise it was a G.I. Joe figure. I was perplexed to say the least and thought, “It’s been YEARS since I played with G.I. Joes! There must be a mix up.” Across the room I eye that 8 year old neighbor kid wielding a 1988 Nolan Ryan Starting Lineup, mint condition in the package. As I jumped to my feet to make my Air Jordan-like 6 inch vertical leap across the room and screamed as loud as I could “Wrong gift! There’s been a mixup!” I slowly saw little Andy Bingham begin to peel back the bubble of what I knew was MY Nolan Ryan sports figure. 

But it was too late. The damage had been done.

my 1988 Nolan Ryan Starting Lineup, scotch taped on the left side and above the card

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I was in my second year of collecting baseball cards and this was the first year that Starting Lineups (SLU) were made. Like most normal kids I opened my sports figures….well at least the first 10 figures or so. Then I turned into a 45 year old hedge-fund investor and stopped ripping them open, instead keeping them mint in the package for all of “their future earnings and my retirement investment.” The ‘88 baseball SLUs were the first sport to be released and the Nolan Ryan figure was the greatest jewel of all the diamonds. But now, mine had been destroyed, forever worthless, now only valued at pennies on the dollar. Our moms realized my dismay and quickly sprang into action trying to mend Nolan Ryan’s wounds with some scotch tape on the plastic bubble and cardboard, but it would never be the same. In the meantime, Andy opened up his little kid’s G.I. Joe and played away with his army man while I sulked over in the corner that my Christmas was ruined. 

Over time I came to forgive Drew for his Christmas gift ripping transgressions and I still proudly display the Nolan Ryan SLU amidst the rest of my prized possessions – scotch tape and all. Many years later Drew and I went to the same college, Lipscomb University, in Nashville. He was a freshman my senior year. Now a decade removed from the scarring incident, I let bygones be bygones…or so I thought. We ran in different circles, but had cordial conversations in passing, yet being from the same small town we had a very distinct association on this small college campus. After I graduated I later learned that when Drew would meet people during the rest of his collegiate career, once they knew who he was they would say “Oh you’re the guy that ripped open Jent’s Starting Lineup when you were kids!” I must have told the story a few times. 

Needless to say our friendship has survived. From the first troll of him ruining my 11 year old collectible dreams, to sending me a new house broom in the mail – I am grateful for Drew’s lifelong friendship. I’m enjoying even more the misery he’s living through as the Cubs front office tears apart their core and makes him wait another 108 years for the next World Series title. 

He, Andrew and I text each other incessantly throughout the day about the previous night’s games, late breaking news or quirky baseball stats. And you can always bet that two of us are on the lookout for ways to troll the other, sometimes overlapping in our quests of being silent and secret. Baseball friendships are great.

Now, excuse me as I go find some Jon Lester cards on eBay in his new Washington Nationals uniform….

FEATURED IMAGE:
Me holding the Amazon gift note “from the Cubs Matt Duffy” with new house broom in hand.

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