Shagging fly balls with Rusty Meacham

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is capable of producing heartbreak, like when our favorite team leaves town. But it is also capable of courting us anew, like the day Rusty Meacham invited a fan to shag fly balls with him.

A friend handed me a copy of the 1992 Omaha Royals media guide over the weekend. That led to a trip down memory lane via Twitter. One of those tweets was a "Who could forget Rusty Meacham?" photo I snapped from the media guide.

Little did I know that a Royals fan named Mike Taylor had a Meacham story to tell. We exchanged emails and he had me at, "I've been a Royals fan since Charlie Finley broke my heart and moved my favorite team to Oakland."

Baseball is capable of producing heartbreak. But it is also capable of courting us anew. As Taylor grew to love the new team in town, he and his wife and kids began going to Spring Training in 1987, when the Royals were still in Baseball City.

"We liked to go the last week of training because that's when the final roster adjustments were made," Taylor said. "There used to be an amusement park there so my wife would take the kids there in the mornings while I wandered down to the minor league fields and took in as much baseball as I could."

One day in 1996, while wandering the complex, he came across Bob Hamelin taking batting practice. Taylor looked on from beyond the right field wall, just beyond a gate, with his glove in hand. Quite a few balls squirted through a gap by the gate and Taylor was happy to retrieve them, flipping them to Meacham, who was shagging fly balls there in right field.

Meacham, who spent eight seasons in the big leagues with Kansas City, Detroit, Seattle, Houston and Tampa Bay and many more seasons in the minors, was always known as a fan friendly player.

"Rusty was pretty popular with the fans that spring because he did Elvis impersonations, and was really quite good at it," Taylor said.

Meacham certainly didn't disappoint on this particular day.

"After I chased down about ten balls or so, Rusty casually asked why I didn't just go on the field and help him shag," Taylor said. "I thought he was kidding at first, but with a little (very little was necessary) encouragement from my wife, I went on the field a few steps from Rusty and managed to snag a few balls before some coaches ran me off the field."

It was a more innocent time - a time when players could do such a thing and not worry so much about the potential ramifications.

Meacham laughed as he watched Taylor on the field, knowing how much fun Taylor was having. Whenever The Hammer roped a ball toward right field, Meacham warned him, "Headed your way."

As you might imagine, Taylor became quite a Meacham fan.

"On the trip home, my wife and I laughed about how Rusty was my new favorite player on the team," Taylor said. "I followed him casually after that. I think he got traded from our minors to another team that summer."

Taylor has quite a memory. The Royals traded the 28-year-old righty to Seattle in June of that season for Jose Amado. It seems like everywhere Meacham went, both in the majors and minors, he left an impression on fans.

Here are a few such stories.

It's nice to add a new one.

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