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Gerrit Cole held on to his childhood Yankees sign for 18 whole years

There are few things that hold a place in your heart throughout your entire life. Family, of course, is one. Coming in close second, though, is fandom. Often, fans maintain allegiance to the team they grew up rooting for from childhood until old age, through good times and bad, lean years and championships.

We assume this isn't as true with professional athletes as it is with the sort of fan who calls into sports talk radio every week, yet it manages to sneak into the discourse whenever a star player hits free agency. LeBron James famously returned to Cleveland to win a championship for his hometown team. Washington Wizards fans spent years hoping in vain that Kevin Durant would recall his roots and sign in D.C.

Ever since pitcher Gerrit Cole hit the market this offseason, Yankees fans had fixated on his childhood fandom of the team, particularly the image of a young Cole holding an allegedly prophetic sign at a Yankees game in 2001 as proof he would eventually sign with the team he grew up loving.

Of course, Cole did sign with the Yankees, lending credence to the notion that fandom runs deep, even in professional athletes. Yet even the most obsessed Yankees fan likely never suspected that the ace had hung on to that sign for 18 years.

Everyone was in for a surprise on Wednesday when he showed up to his introductory press conference with the very sign he held at Yankee Stadium as a youth. The years have clearly changed both the sign and the holder:

Getting past the sentimentality of the moment, the first question, of course, is, can this possibly be the same sign? Why are the letters gold when they were once blue? What happened to the pinstripes that were once the background on the poster board? Was this just some cheap stunt designed to confirm the hopes, dreams and wishes of a fan base that wanted so much to believe their guy had looked into his heart and decided to come home?

I've taken signs to games a couple times in my life and I think they ended up in a trash can at the stadium as soon as the game ended. Still, while it seems incredibly unlikely that Cole would have hung onto this sign for one day, let alone nearly two decades, it probably is, in fact, the real sign. If it were fake, it would surely look more like the real thing.