Turned out, her mother had plenty to say to Joba Chamberlain.
Once the tiny woman let go of the Yankees pitcher.
"I said, 'Mom, I have an early Christmas present for you,'" Vickie Smith remembers. "And she was, 'Oh, oh, oh,' and she just grabbed him."
Then 82-year-old JoAnne Michaelson -- mother of three, widow, longtime sports fan -- started talking.
About knowing his father. About his baseball career. About the shirt he was wearing. About that night the team's trainers had to douse him with bug spray on the mound. About how she doesn't think the Yankees are using him right.
"It was amazing to me," Vickie says.
Here's why: At one point during the conversation between the old woman and the major leaguer, Vickie interrupted.
"Mom, what day of the week is it? She said, 'I don't know.'"
"And he looked at her and said, 'It doesn't really matter, does it?'"
* * *
One Saturday two years ago, JoAnne baked cinnamon rolls. She visited her daughter. She talked about the Nebraska football game. She drove home to watch the Yankees on TV.
"Everything in her life was normal," Vickie says.
Nobody heard from JoAnne the next day. By early evening, Vickie was concerned enough to drive over and check on her. She knew something was wrong when she found her mom's newspaper still outside.
JoAnne had suffered a stroke; she'd been stuck in her bed since the night before.
That's how she ended up at Haven Manor in Hickman, with photos of Joba on her wall and a plastic tub of Joba clippings in her closet. And a recent breast cancer diagnosis.
But without much of her memory.
"I've had a stroke, and I have trouble remembering things," she says, struggling to find the words.
She was born in Oakdale but lived most of her life in north Lincoln, raising her family in the same neighborhood, in fact, where Joba grew up. She worked off and on -- tinting photos, helping in her husband's beauty salon, on staff at Merry Manor.
"Sports has always been a big part of her life," Vickie says. "We tried to play it down, but she's always been a Cubs fan."
And she became a Joba fan long before her stroke. She followed his college career, then followed him to the Yankees in 2007. She started clipping every Joba story and picture and mention she could find.
"This thing with Joba is something she's been obsessed with. We thought it was so funny -- she never attended any of our games, but she was scrapbooking him."
* * *
A few months ago, during baseball season, Vickie was talking to a fellow Duncan Aviation employee, Ryan Young. The Yankees came up, and Ryan mentioned he'd recently seen Joba in Lincoln.
"And she said, 'Oh, my gosh. My mom is in love with him.'"
Ryan offered to try to arrange a visit for Vickie's mom; he's not close to Joba, but a friend is.
Months passed. A meeting in November fell through.
Then, on Dec. 1, Ryan called Vickie: Joba was going to visit JoAnne at Haven Manor the next afternoon.
* * *
It could have been awkward. JoAnne could have been forgetful. Joba could have been impatient.
But after her surprise, JoAnne lit up. And talked and talked. And Joba listened and listened, Vickie says.
"He never, ever acted like he wanted to leave. He spent time with her."
She showed him her room, with his pictures on the wall. She showed him her tub of clippings. She had him sign the Yankees shirt her daughter Cathy brought back from New York for her birthday.
He gave her a baseball glove, nearly as big as her head, and a baseball. She keeps both hidden in her room.
"I can't say enough about him," JoAnne says. "He's a tremendous young man."
Vickie and her brother, Greg, watched their mom come alive that afternoon. Her cancer forgotten, her memory returned.
"She remembers so many things about him playing baseball that she could communicate with him," Vickie says. "She was just ecstatic."
Last week, Ryan was having a little memory trouble of his own, not really recalling how that first conversation with Vickie turned to the Yankees.
"I don't even know how it all got started," he says, "but it led to something really nice."