The T-shirt in Denise Mroczek's closet with the big footprint on it was trod upon July 4, 1999, possibly by Rick Springfield.
Mroczek had tossed it onstage at Ribfest in Naperville, where it was 95 degrees and Springfield was singing amid a steady shower of clothing and flowers from his screaming fans. Mroczek, who was in the front row, recalls "it took Rick an hour" to acknowledge her poly-cotton gift, which she'd paid $20 for earlier that day. When Springfield finally picked it up, he signed it, then made direct eye contact with Mroczek as he tossed it back to her.
"I myself was never big into the T-shirts," says Mroczek, who owns 11 of his albums, tapes of his TV appearances, and a copy of Hard to Hold--the 1984 film about a rock star that was meant, but failed, to make Springfield a movie star (though "there was a butt shot"). At home in Woodridge, Mroczek has hung posters of Springfield that one day could fetch several hundred dollars on eBay.
The posters, which are fraying but were recently framed to ensure their preservation, gazed down at Mroczek the evening of August 1 as she clicked on www.rickspringfield.com. A frequent visitor, Mroczek, 33, likes to keep up with Springfield's doings on the road, and there have been more since he emerged from the cocoon he went into shortly after the release of Rick Springfield's Greatest Hits in 1989. "People just weren't into the 80s bubblegum music anymore," Mroczek says. "I think it was just bad timing."
With a new album, Karma, out two years ago, Springfield went back on the road. He was being booked at ribfests and like events with such regularity that Mroczek went seven times. Though not an official fan club member, she's racked up 13 shows since 1982. "I've got the resources now where I can go and see him," she says.
In the next month, she planned to see him twice, including this Saturday, August 11, at Navy Pier. "Then," says Mroczek, "Rick went and broke his arm."
The July 31 news that Springfield had fallen 30 feet, from the top of a set to the steel stage while performing in the EFX Alive show in Las Vegas, had Mroczek's phone ringing off the hook.
"My friends are always on the Rick lookout for me," she says. "It's kind of frightening and kind of funny at the same time." When Springfield was arrested for beating his wife last September, "I was a little shocked," says Mroczek. "It was all over the news and my friends were calling and saying, 'So what do you think about him now?' I think his wife dropped the charges, but whether or not he did it, I was a little bit thrown and I was wondering maybe he isn't the great guy his fans think he is." The charges against him were dropped in October and by March Springfield had announced his summer tour dates in Chicago. Mroczek was swift to get tickets.
She was just as swift to print out the letter that Springfield posted on his Web site about the Vegas tumble: "For those of you who were worried, the stage is fine...not even a ding."
Mroczek was impressed, noting, "He typed it with one hand." Still, even after she tacked it on her wall and read it a few times, she needed to talk about it. So she called up Kelly Aleccia.
Friends since their sophomore year at Downers Grove North, Mroczek was the maid of honor when Aleccia got married in 1992. Aleccia says of the event, "No--there was no Rick played." Mroczek says, "The guy I marry will learn to like him."
Aleccia, whose musical tastes run more toward folk and hard rock, can still be counted on to accompany Mroczek to Springfield's concerts. They've seen two together so far, and for Aleccia's 33rd birthday this month, Mroczek bought her a ticket to the Navy Pier show. "I told her I'd pay half," says Aleccia, who works in pricing integrity at a supermarket ("I make sure you don't get 20 ounces of Oreos for a penny"). Reflecting on Mroczek's love of the 51-year-old singer, Aleccia says, "We don't always get it. I admit I enjoy him, I'm a fan, but Denise is beyond. I'd like to talk her into seeing Alice Cooper with me sometime."
If and when Mroczek ever gets to meet Springfield in person, Aleccia would love to be there: "I think she'd probably pass out."
After reading about Springfield's accident on the Internet, Mroczek tried to reach Aleccia twice by phone. She left messages, then started having a major case of deja vu: in 1985, Springfield's show at the Rosemont Horizon was canceled because he'd been in a car accident.
"It was a real bummer at 17," says Mroczek. She first saw Springfield when he played Poplar Creek in 1982--her mom took her for her eighth grade graduation present.
"I didn't know that he was big in Australia before that," says Mroczek, who now ranks the program from 1984's "Living in Oz" tour among her prized possessions. "He grew up in Sydney, and they still call him Ricky there. His mother still lives there and so does his older brother. His dad died April 24, 1981--I only know that because it's the name of the last song on Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet. It was so sad because he was locked into his contract with General Hospital, and they only gave him three days off to go back for the funeral."
Mroczek has eased herself through Springfield's latest scrape by playing his CDs nonstop to and from her job in Northbrook, where she's a caseworker at a vocational center for disabled adults. "Woman," a lesser-known track off Rock of Life, and "Jessie's Girl" have been soothing. "I mean he can't even hold a guitar," Mroczek says. "I just have to hold on and see what happens."
Mroczek was relieved to learn that Springfield's Navy Pier show was only postponed. "If he'd canceled it, I don't know what I would have done." Until the new date is announced, she's thinking of what she'll say when she sees the singer, even if it's from several rows away: "Be careful when you're performing and don't hurt yourself. Take care and keep doing what you're doing, and I'll keep coming to see you."
In September, Mroczek, her sister, Aleccia, and her husband are heading to Vegas. Mroczek has tickets for Springfield's EFX Alive. "The man is cute," says Mroczek, "but do I worship him? No--I don't think I've gotten that far yet."