A few years passed between childhood and the time I met Roger. I grew up and abandoned baseball, although not my love of it. And, I never forgot my childhood heroes of the sport.
I was working as an insurance agent in Gainesville, Florida and had accepted a job with a fledgling agency. They couldn’t pay me a salary but they’d split all commissions with me 50-50. It sounded like a challenge, a job made to order for this entrepreneur-at-heart, and I set out to succeed.
I knew insurance and I pounded the pavement in my high heels and dress-for-success clothing. It was the seventies and I’d entered a forbidden zone, formerly open to men only. I persevered. I wrote some large accounts and once I’d done that, I was hooked.
I discovered that Roger Maris and his brother owned a Budweiser distributorship in Gainesville and Ocala. Maris had played four seasons in the minor leagues and twelve seasons in the majors. He set the Major League Baseball record for home runs during the 1961 season with 61, breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in 1927. When he retired from baseball, he came to Gainesville. I wanted not only to meet my childhood hero, but to write the insurance on his entire operation.
When I asked about him, my male colleagues said, “Maris won’t see you.” “I never had the nerve to call on him.” “You’re not ready for the big leagues.” Yes, I was, but I didn’t just strut in and ask to see the hero. I did my homework.
I called and received the cold shoulder from the secretary. One day I dropped by with my card and met the formidable woman who stood between me and my goal. She was not much older than I was. I told myself I would not be intimidated by someone my age, but she won that round.
On my second trip to the Budweiser office, which I’d come to think of as The Office, I confided in her my love of baseball. She listened, bored and not afraid to show it. I left discouraged but not defeated. Maris once said, “You hit homeruns, not by chance but by preparation.” Meeting Roger Maris would be a homerun for me.
On my fourth trip to The Office I changed to badass mode. “Why won’t you let me see Mr. Maris or whoever does the purchasing? It’s customary for businesses to get quotes from various agencies. Is it because I’m a woman? Do you think I don’t know my business? Who do I need to see?”
A man strode into the room. He’d aged and I didn’t recognize my hero. I still thought of him the way he looked in the late fifties. “You need to see me. I have five minutes.” Aha. First base.
Then he turned to me and held out his hand. “I’m Roger Maris.”
It’s a wonder I didn’t swoon or burst into tears. I introduced myself with my professional face on, but just beneath that was the dirty face of an adoring little baseball player. Batter up!
I gave him my spiel and told him why he should do business with my agency. He could count on me. Who knew what he thought? There I was, a brash young woman in my twenties.
He explained that he bought his insurance in a group policy with other Budweiser distributors and there was no way I could compete with that price. Undaunted and naïve (but long on confidence) I asked if I could be allowed to bid on the whole of them.
“You mean all the distributors in the country?”
“I’m sorry, but you’d have to approach Budweiser at the national level, and I don’t even know a name to give you.” The fact that he wanted to give me a name was all that mattered to me.
Until I ventured West and left insurance behind forever, I tried to get a name from Budweiser. That never happened, but I’ve attempted to live by my hero’s final words to me. “Keep on swinging, young lady.”