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Never forgetting a chance meeting with Tony Soprano. Gandolfini.com

While many think of the opening of camps around Arizona and Florida as the start of something new; I always take the time to remember an encounter with someone that had nothing to do with baseball. Someone who every spring makes me smile and remember that life is a gift that needs to be unwrapped every day. Especially in times like these.

I was in Sanibel Island, Florida about a half hour outside of Fort Myers.  It was March of 2000.   I had a day off covering Minnesota Twins camp and decided to lay out by the hotel pool and enjoy a nice cigar.  

As I finished lighting my Montecristo #2,  I noticed him. How could you not!  

The Sopranos was relatively new to viewers. The show debuted in January of 1999, but I was already hooked. He had a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops.  A towel wrapped around his neck and an unlit cigar in one hand.

Maybe it was the smoke from my cigar, but he quickly shuffled over to my area by the pool.  There was an empty seat not quite next to me,  but near enough to me.  

As he approached, I found myself rehearsing what, if anything, I would say to my new favorite TV star!  It was Tony Soprano!  I read he was painfully shy and I certainly didn’t want to disrupt his quiet time in the sun.

Thankfully he spoke first: “Is this seat taken?” he said. “No… enjoy” I said.   

He nodded and sat down.   Now what? What was I going to say.. if anything? He then took off his shirt.  and it hit me.   A couple of big fellas sitting by the pool, both badly in need of as much sunscreen as humanly possible.

After he lit his cigar, I  looked at him and said… “between you and me.. ain't nobody gonna get any sun today at this pool.”  He laughed.. shook his head yes.. and reached out to shake my hand.  “James” he said.  “Jim” I said.  Nothing more was said and at least for me.. that was plenty.

James Gandolfini left us far too soon. A heart attack struck him down in 2013.  He was 51 years old.  He’s a cautionary tale. Take better care of yourself. Mix in a salad. Lose some weight. But never stop enjoying life. 

Even in times like these. 

You can listen to my radio show, The Sports Bosses , weekdays at 10 a.m. ET on SB Nation Radio. Follow me on Twitter @mediarodriguez

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