There were high expectations — sky-high, in fact — when The Man himself was on the move last night.
Truth is, he whizzed over this area — Highland, Redlands, Yucaipa, Loma Linda, Mentone, all local communities — just before midnight.
It’s now Friday, Dec. 25. Granted an exclusive interview one night after his marathon work schedule, I finally got clearance after all these years. When I arrived, his staff pointed me in the direction of his office. I followed the maze of corridors — pictures all along the way — until I saw his name on the door.
I knocked. A jingle bell sounded. When the door opened, I spotted him immediately. Surrounding his office, I saw a breathtaking outdoor corral. Separated by a massive window. They’d carried him to all corners of the world. Vixen and Comet were getting a drink. The rest were sleeping. Exhausted, no doubt.
“Mr. Claus, thanks for seeing me.”
“Just call me,” he said “Santa.”
This was way off my beat, but I had sports-related questions for this legendary man. I’d been working on this interview forever.
I opened with an ice-breaker, a term I’m certain Santa knows all about in his part of the world.
“How’d it go last night?”
He said. “I think we got everybody.”
Let’s see, he told me, there was that new glove for that little girl over on Church.
Those twin boys on Seventh Street in Highland were really counting on new Razor scooters.
Over in East Highlands Ranch, though, one family cancelled a request for golf clubs for their 13-year-old daughter.
“They found out,” said Santa, “that in my workshop, we only make our own brand. They wanted a set of Titleists. We don’t get those up here.”
S. Claus sat down, stroking his white mustache. “For some reason,” he said, “all everyone else in Redlands wants for Christmas is a bicycle.”
They’ve got Treks and Cannondales, Specialized and Giant, some major brands. “Sometimes, they’re not specific on whether they want a road bike or a mountain bike.
“That should be your next story.”
“Cup of cocoa?” he offered, reaching over to pour himself another cup.
“My wife made some hot-buttered rum?”
“No. I’ve got some eggnog waiting for me at home.”
“Oh … well, ho ho ho.”
“Let me make one thing clear,” he said, “ right off the bat. I can’t use names. No names, please.”
Sure, I said.
“I think you understand why.”
Yes sir, I certainly do.
“Speaking of bats,” he said, “has anyone seen the price of those things lately? Anyone that gets a bat from Santa should be more than just a little grateful. Those DeMarini’s are excellent.”
You should, he said, do a story on that, too.
This was a good year, he said. “I know we had COVID, the elections and all the sports cancellations … but we kept cranking out the stuff.”
“What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had for sports equipment?”
“From around your area?” he said, his fluffy beard flapping madly.
He held up one finger. “One kid,” he said, “wanted a complete fighting ensemble. Gloves, speed bag, heavy bag.
“Watch out for that kid over on Richardson in Loma Linda. She’s already got a picture of Ronda Rousey on her wall. Got that for her last year.”
“Ho ho ho.”
Santa says he delivers lots of basketballs and footballs. That tops his list. Soccer balls, though, have long surpassed those balls on his list.
He took a sip of cocoa. Incredible! Not a single drop of that brownish liquid treat stained his white whiskers. Man is impeccable.
Look, I told him, “I know you give toys, games, lots of video stuff and computers, all kinds of clothes. Sports gear, though. Has it surpassed all other gift requests around the world?”
Santa, nodding, smiling, softly, said, “Ho ho ho.”
You might be surprised, he said. Brazilians don’t ask for soccer gear.
USA kids are all about soccer gear — nets, balls, shoe wear, all the garb for Man U, Juventus, jerseys for Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo.
“Those Brazilians knock off America almost every time there’s a match. Considering how much soccer gear I deliver to the little American kids, it’s surprising how often they lose those international matches to the Brazilians.”
Santa suggested I really ought to write a story about that.
Yucaipa kids, he said, go for the gloves and bats, baseball and softball cleats, “the total look.”
Over in Redlands, he said, it’s bikes, tennis rackets and golf clubs. “I try to deliver those new titanium rackets whenever I get a chance. The Babolats are the most popular.”
Highland? “Mostly, it’s skateboard gear. They go from the Anti-Hero board up through the Zed Longboards and Punishers. Those crazy li’l guys.
“You don’t do many stories on those skateboarders, do you?”
I shook my head. “No. I have my hands full with everything else.”
“You should do a story.”
“And,” said the man in red, “they love to run in Highland. It’s all about the shoes. My main job there is mixing up enough brands so they’re not all running in the same gear.”
The Vapors. The Barricade. The Gel Resolutions. He shook his head. “I remember when it was just PF Flyers.”
“I know you get letters from kids with their requests before Dec. 25, but what about letters after the holidays?”
“Ho ho ho.” Tons, he said. “People are very appreciative. But … I also get some negative letters.”
“Well, in all honesty, the kids … the high schoolers … they want to play … they’re asking me … most of the letters are about clearing the way for football, soccer, tennis — all the high school sports. They’re not letting them play.”
“What were you able to do?”
Santa, sadly, shook his head. “It’s not in my lane. I can’t be a political Santa. Got to leave it up to the … people in charge.”
“Those people in charge; we all know who they are. Did those people get Santa gifts?”
“Ho ho ho.”
“What’d they get?”
“They got what they wanted.”
“What about all that naughty and nice stuff?”
“Don’t pin me down on that, please.”
Perking up a bit, he said, “You’re right, though. More kids are going for the sports stuff — shoes, equipment, shirts, jerseys, jackets.”
All right, then, what was the absolute number one request?
“For this area?”
“Mike Trout jerseys.”
“We barely had enough of them.”
I should, he said, do a story on that.