When I look at this card, the first thing that jumps out at me is Jimmy Key's gray hair, poking out from under his cap, covering his temples. He was thirty-six at the time this picture was taken, about to begin his fourteenth season in the major leagues. But that premature loss of pigment made him look even older and wiser, more severe somehow.
We usually don't pay much attention to players' hair; it's usually obscured by their caps and batting helmets. You have to go to great lengths to get your locks noticed: Manny Ramirez's dreadlocks. Oscar Gamble's afro. Eddie Murray's chops. Gray hair is usually an attention getter, due to the stark contrast between the dark cap and the whitening follicles. We think of athletes as men's men, strong and youthful and virile; it seems strange that this image would be compromised. The most famous gray-haired players I can recall were doughy old dinosaurs holding on for dear life at the end of seemingly eternal careers. Gaylord Perry leers back at me from an early-Eighties baseball card; a few years later I see the final efforts of Phil Niekro.
As an Orioles fan, though, I remember great feats in gray. The little bit of hair that Cal Ripken, Jr. had in the early Nineties started turning silver. Over the second half of his career, he had some great seasons and acheived many major milestones. Mike Bordick was gray by the end of his career, and there are few players that Baltimore fans respected more than him. The man pictured above pulled it all together in 1997 for one last hurrah, winning 16 games with a 3.43 ERA for the only O's team in recent memory to win the American League East. His body broke down the following season, and he called it a career.
I feel something of a kinship with these men. I found my own first gray hairs when I was about fourteen. In the ensuing decade, I've cultivated a bright "skunk patch" above my right ear, clashing wildly with the dark brown that surrounds it. Renegade silver strands are popping up on my left temple, on the crown, around the back. It seems to be a trait inherited from my mother's family, and if history is any indication, the transformation to Anderson Cooper territory will be complete in another ten years. It amuses me more than anything; after all, it's something to set me apart from others. Blending in isn't something I usually strive for, anyhow. And as long as my hair sticks around, it can be any color it pleases.
Maybe it'll be an asset, lulling would-be opponents into a false sense of security. That's when I'll sneak the slider past them.