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Jeff Bagwell came to my bar mitzvah

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Rovell's Hall of Fame bar mitzvah guest (2:20)

Darren Rovell stops by SportsCenter to reminisce about Jeff Bagwell coming to his bar mitzvah 26 years ago. (2:20)

I had to have a baseball player at my bar mitzvah.

That was my wish to my dad as that day, June 15, 1991, was fast approaching.

Knowing that I was an avid reader of Baseball America and Minor League Baseball Card Monthly, my dad was looking to find some prospects for the celebration.

Interpretation: We weren't going to break the bank on having some Hall of Famer, though one of my brother's friends did, in fact, have Mickey Mantle at his party.

The irony is that today, some 25½ years later, it turns out we had a Hall of Famer there. We just didn't know it at the time.

My wish list wasn't that long.

Being a Little League catcher, I selected almost exclusively catchers and, because I was a Mets fan, the list also had Mets on it, of course.

The first two names:

  • Alan Zinter, the Mets' first-round draft pick in 1989. He was a catcher playing at Double-A Williamsport at the time.

  • Brook Fordyce, the Mets' third-round pick in 1989. Fordyce was also a catcher who was playing at Class A Port St. Lucie.

Then came my two shots at getting a major leaguer:

  • Phil Plantier, who impressed me with his play in the minors, was playing with the Boston Red Sox.

  • Craig Biggio, another young catcher whom I admired, was in his third full season with the Astros. Like me, he also hailed from Long Island.

My dad, whose career in the medical device business was all about researching, wasn't daunted by the task ahead.

Though it wasn't easy in the days before the internet and Google, he quickly found out that getting a minor leaguer off the road in the middle of the season was nearly impossible.

Somewhere along the way, he realized that Biggio was the best option. It turned out that the Astros were playing the Mets in a night game on my bar mitzvah day. Shea Stadium was only 13 miles away.

He found a number for the Astros public relations department and eventually spoke to someone who helped arrange events for the players.

"Biggio probably won't be available for this," the woman told my dad, as he later recalled. "But there's a nice young player who I think could work."

His name? Jeff Bagwell.

My dad wanted to know the price.

The woman called back a few days later with the damage -- $500 and a round-trip car ride from the hotel in New York City to the party and directly to Shea Stadium for the game that night.

They struck a deal.

My dad never told me that he was about to come through on my wish. I had no idea he was actually going to do it.

The night before my bar mitzvah, my dad left the house to do something for work.

What he was really doing was meeting Bagwell at the Grand Hyatt in New York to pay him and get a few things signed in advance -- a couple of baseball bats, an Astros jersey and baseballs.

The two talked in the lobby without any fanfare. There was one issue: Bagwell didn't have a jacket on the road.

It's commonplace now for players to have blazers for when they travel, but back then, for a rookie in his third month in the majors, it wasn't that surprising.

My dad wanted to make sure he was comfortable at the party.

So, that day, Bagwell went to Portabella, a suit store in New York frequented by sports stars, and bought a beige jacket.

The day itself was pretty exhausting.

I got up early to do my hair because, surprise, I had a lot of it. I also had to make sure to perform my last-minute rehearsals for my responsibilities that day.

After temple, we went to the party. A four-piece barbershop quartet was singing classic baseball songs, greeting guests as they entered the door.

My friends were asked to sign a baseball bat and their table assignment was written in gold Sharpie on a baseball card of me that we had made.

At the cocktail party, I paced myself on eating mini hot dogs and saw Bud Harrelson, the manager of the Mets at the time, out of the corner of my eye.

I actually knew he was coming. My neighbor Tony was great friends with Buddy, and he came as a favor to him.

At some point, Bagwell walked in. I was an avid baseball fan, so I knew who he was right away.

My eyes lit up. I was speechless. I remember Bagwell being quiet, too. We made some small talk and Bagwell went to a table to sign cards for my friends at the party.

I would be lying if I said they were overly enthused.

We were mostly Mets fans, so I knew they were wondering why a guy like Dwight Gooden wasn't there.

"I recall explaining to them that Bagwell was a great young rookie and, since we all dealt in baseball card currency back then, it was smart to get his autograph now."

Darren Rovell

The truth was, Gary Carter would have been my ultimate, though he was playing in Los Angeles with the Dodgers and another former Met, Darryl Strawberry.

I recall explaining to them that Bagwell was a great young rookie and, since we all dealt in baseball card currency back then, it was smart to get his autograph now.

He signed black-and-white photographs that the Astros had recently provided him.

Toward the end of the cocktail party, Harrelson took the mic.

"I just want everyone to know that the guy sitting in that corner is a hell of a player," Harrelson said. "He just hit the longest home run in the history of Three Rivers Stadium [456 feet] and we look forward to beating him tonight."

Bagwell smiled and the partygoers clapped.

Then, he left and the party continued.

We sang and danced all the classics at the time, including "Locomotion" and "U Can't Touch This."

And that was it.

I'm sure that most of the kids didn't keep Bagwell's signature long enough to even have it at the end of the year when he was named National League Rookie of the Year and certainly not by 1994 when he won NL MVP.

Over the years, the idea that Bagwell was at my bar mitzvah became more meaningful to my friends who were at the party.

As I continued to follow the sport as the years went by, I always had a soft spot for Bagwell. I got excited whenever a highlight of his was featured on SportsCenter.

Although I went on to make a career in sports, and the type of hero worship I had as a kid faded, I'll never forget the emotion I had on that day in June when I saw him for the first time in person.

I certainly didn't play any part in his rise, but in a strange way, he did play some part in mine.

Following his ascension to the top, knowing where he was when he was there with me that day, allowed me to truly understand that we all do start at the bottom, but that dreams are always within our reach.