Mike and Jennifer Houk were in Atlanta last weekend celebrating their wedding anniversary, and on the spur of the moment they decided to take their 6-year-old son, Zach, to Saturday's baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and the Baltimore Orioles.
When the Houks left Turner Field, Zach had a new tomahawk, Mike had a lighter wallet, and Mrs. Houk had a once-in-a-lifetime anniversary gift - a signed game jersey from Atlanta pitcher Greg Maddux.
"I didn't believe it," Jennifer said. "Stuff like that doesn't happen to me."
Russell Athletic was holding a contest called Jerseys Off their Backs, which allowed fans to purchase $1 raffle tickets for a chance to win a game jersey from an Atlanta player.
On the back of the ticket, the odds of being one of the 15 winners were calculated at 1 in 6,666. The odds of Jennifer meeting her favorite player on her favorite team, and walking away with his shirt, were astronomical.
Jennifer Houk holds the Braves
jersey that they won during a
lottery at the Braves-Orioles game. Their son Zachary, 6, holds the ticket that he scratched off to win the jersey. Mike Houk smiles in the background.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
But the Houks took a chance and cashed in.
"We bought 20 tickets when we went in, and then we bought 20 more," Mrs. Houk said. "We were sitting there, and some volunteers came by in the fifth inning right before they stopped selling tickets. I told Mike to just get 20 more for Zach to scratch off. So he bought 20 more, and the first one Zach scratched off said, 'Winner.' He was so excited."
Zach remembers the magic moment a bit differently. "No, mom, you were excited. She was screaming and yelling."
Mrs. Houk doesn't mind being boisterous about the Braves. She's a longtime fan, and plans her schedule around televised games so she won't miss any of the action.
Although she said, "I really didn't care whose jersey I got. I love them all," the lucky evening became even better when the raffle winners conducted a random drawing in the seventh inning.
"We picked numbers then drew envelopes," Mrs. Houk explained. "I picked 13 (the Houks were celebrating their 13th wedding anniversary) and when I opened my envelope I ended up with Greg Maddux. He's my hero. I almost passed out."
Greg Maddux presents Jennifer Houk with his jersey after she drew his name in the Jerseys Off Their Backs promotion during the Braves-Orioles game in Atlanta.
After the Braves finished their 10-2 victory over the Orioles, Mrs. Houk and the other raffle winners walked onto the diamond, where the waiting players removed their jerseys, signed them, and presented them to the fortunate 15.
"When I met him, I was so in awe and told him I couldn't believe this," Mrs. Houk recalled. "He said, 'Why not?' I almost said, 'Do you know who you are?"'
Any baseball fan knows who Maddux is - he's a four-time winner of the Cy Young Award and a shoo-in for the Baseball Hall of Fame. "It's incredible to think something just like this, a game jersey from Greg Maddux, is going to be hanging in the Hall of Fame one day," Mrs. Houk said.
Maddux will have to wait five years after his retirement to be eligible for induction at Cooperstown, but there will be an early enshrinement in Columbia County - the Houks plan to have the jersey framed for display in the game room of their Martinez home.
And this memento will be a permanent fixture in the Houk Hall of Fame.
"I really don't think you can put a price on it. With her getting to go out on the field, meeting Greg Maddux and having him sign the jersey, it's definitely not for sale," Mr. Houk said. "The fact of what it might be worth down the road personally far outweighs the monetary value. It was like a dream come true."
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