First up, Tip A King, 2011. That’s this Sunday, right? I think so. I am not into autographs but if a player is there, I am there, there is a pen sitting around and something to sign, then yeah, sure, I’ll drink a beer while someone else gets an autograph.
Next up, a fun one – Morton’s The Steakhouse in downtown (735 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, 90017; 213-553-4566) has partnered with EPSN Radio to host a special lunch on Wednesday, November 16 at 11:30 am with NHL and L.A. Kings Legend / Icon / Living Deity and current President of Business Operations, Luc Robitaille as the guest of honor. Guests at the event will meet Luc and he will answer questions from 710 ESPN hosts, Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley.
Guests will enjoy a three-course lunch and, if you have not eaten at Morton’s, it’s simply awesome. Tickets are $50 per person. Reservations are a must and can be made by calling Spenser Dayoub at 213-553-4586. More details are available online. I was flattered when Morton’s fine people asked me to cover the event. As such, I will be there. If you can attend, let me know. Would love to see some of our readers there.
The third event is November 20. Perhaps a picture tells it all:
The story? The true story…submitted by our reader, Sean Stowell. I give it to you exactly as I got it.
My Early ‘90s Tip-a-King Teenage Nightmare
I was living an early 1990s teenage nightmare. I was sitting in the back of a blue 1989 Plymouth Voyager minivan containing my sister, my mom and my dad. I was fresh off my Accutane acne treatments so instead of dealing with oily skin, I was dealing with super dry skin that made me look like a molting reptile. The only thing saving me was the fact that I was heading to Tip-a-King.
That year, Tip-a-King was held at Hollywood Park. We were coming from Orange County and as my dad merges off the freeway onto Manchester Blvd., I hear the clunk of the door locks as he loudly announces, “Lock the doors, and roll up the windows.” As if the drive wasn’t already uncomfortable, I was praying that we wouldn’t get stopped at a red light because my dad’s paranoia that some Inglewood street urchin coveting our minivan would take the family hostage would be too much to handle. My sister was the only one who didn’t seem to care what was going on, she was listening to her Walkman blasting her New Kids on the Block cassette.
We pull into the Hollywood Park parking lot and I can’t believe I’m here. I’m going to meet Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille, Kyosti Karjalainen, and Rod Buskas, plus my parents sprung for the tickets and were giving me the “tip” money as well (back then I think it was $1 for an autograph and $2 for a picture with the player). I was quickly brought back to reality when I saw the long line already formed to the left of the entrance gate. My dad and I wanted to get to Gretzky’s line quickly and it’s safe to say 90 percent of the line had the same idea. My mom and sister were heading for Robitaille.
As we wait in line a large man in an antique car wearing a Kufi cap comes driving by. “Look at that idiot,” my dad says. I think I recognize the guy, but I don’t say anything. The man in the Kufi comes walking right past us and my dad says, “Oh great, look who’s coming,” pointing in the Kufi wearer’s direction. He looks at us with a hint of a snarl on his face and keeps walking. “Wow man, that guy is big,” my dad adds. “Yeah, it’s Jim Brown,” I say, looking at the ground. “The sports guy on Channel 7?” my dad asks. “No, Jim Brown, the old running back,” I say, still staring at the ground. “Why’s he wearing that hat?” he asks. “I don’t know” I say, my eyes trained on the ground.
Kings television play-by-play announcer Bob Miller walks out to tell everybody that the gates will be opening soon. My dad informs me that we need to get to Gretzky’s line as fast as we can. The gates open and we slowly work our way up to the turnstiles. Once the tickets are taken, people blast through the turnstiles like water being shot from a hose. I hand my ticket to the person stationed at the entrance and I pause as the person in front of me has stopped to search for something in a bag. Suddenly I feel a push from behind “God, just go,” my dad yells. He’s pushing me into the turnstile as the person in front of me is spelunking in their bag for some mystery item. “C’mon, move,” he yells again, pushing through the turnstile and past the bag person in front of me. As I ram my way past I hit the spelunker with a video camera I’m holding. Remember, this is the early 1990s so this video camera is enormous by today’s standards. The reason for the camera was that my dad had purchased a game worn Gretzky jersey at an auction and wanted The Great One himself to authenticate it on video tape. This was also during the sports memorabilia boom, so he was seeing dollar signs.
We get in the Gretzky line and surprisingly there are only about 25-30 people ahead of us. I set the camera on the ground because the thing is heavy and I notice my dad’s hands are shaking. He’s nervous. Not even getting stopped at the intersection of Prairie and Manchester got him this rattled. I’d never seen him this way before, and I take a little satisfaction in this. His nervous state leads my dad to peer through a curtain towards where Gretzky is sitting, convinced that the NHL’s leading scorer is going to split before we get to him. “Is that thing ready to go? Is there a tape in it? Is there enough juice in the battery?” he rapid fires at me. “I hope so,” I say relishing the fact that he’s freaking out. We get up to Gretzky and I go first, getting an autograph, a picture with my favorite player and then I shake his hand. My dad pushes his way up and starts to grill Gretzky about the jersey. I grab the video camera and hoist it onto my shoulder. Gretzky looks over at me and realizes what is going on. Gretzky had a few things on his jerseys that were unique only to him. He starts to look at all the markings and my dad, looking at the camera asks “So, is it real?” Gretzky tells him “I can’t tell you.” “So, just look right there,” my dad says pointing to me “and say it’s real.” Gretzky hands him the jersey back and says “I can’t tell you one way or the other.” I’m biting my lip trying not to laugh when my dad says, “Alright, shut it off,” and we walk away.
My dad heads to the racetrack grandstand to smoke a cigarette and I head over to the auction area. Walking past the items I spot my uncle carrying his newly won autographed Jim Everett cleats. I think he regretted buying those the next morning. Across the room we notice my mom and sister. This particular year was the 75th anniversary of the NHL and Kings radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson is auctioning a display case with 75 pucks autographed by 75 NHL greats. “We’re at $1,400, do I hear $1,500,” Nickson says in his best auctioneer voice. My mom sees us and waves. “All right, $1,500,” Nickson says pointing to my mom. “I think your mom just bid on that,” my uncle says. “No, she was waving at us,” I reply. “I hope somebody outbids her soon.” I make eye contact with my mom and mouth to her “You just bid on that.” She panics and starts waving to get Nickson’s attention. “Just put your hand down,” I say out loud as I start to walk over to her. The bid increases and my mom is out of the woods but she doesn’t realize it as she’s still waving toward Nickson. “We’re at $1,600 can I get $1,700?” I come up behind my mom and say, “Put your hand down, he thinks you are bidding.” Just as Nickson looks over toward us my mom puts her hand down. Nickson pauses, possibly a bit confused, and then continues, “Can I get $1,700?” Crisis averted.
The rest of the night goes smoothly until we see our final player, enforcer Jay Miller. We had a silver pen for players to sign pucks. We issued a warning to every player not to shake the pen, just write and the ink will flow. Miller failed to heed our warning and shook the pen. Silver ink splats all over his nice sweater vest that has an emblem of some country club on it. He gives my whole family a dirty look. I thank him and grab the puck and pen. “This guy is going to kill us, let’s go,” my dad says. We hightail it out of the racetrack and back into the Voyager for the ride back to Orange County. I sit in the back seat feeling a mix of excitement and utter mortification. I am thrilled about all of the players I got to meet, but completely embarrassed by my family, as only a teenager can be.
It’s been 20 years since that night and I can laugh at the things that happened, thankful for the memories I got to share with my family. I now have a son of my own. He’s only 19-months-old so I’ll be waiting a couple more years before I take him to Tip-a-King, hoping to give him just as many embarrassing moments that he will look back on fondly when he’s older.