Sports editor Scott Vicker wrote a column last week about his marathon week involving 840 miles traveled to cover the likes of the State Softball Tournament in Fort Dodge and five area athletes and a coach in the Iowa Shrine Bowl at Cedar Falls.
The reason he was left with all of those duties, without my help, was a father-son trip of a lifetime that was planned in December. I knew it wouldn’t be a great time for me, professionally, but there was no way I was letting the opportunity pass.
I always felt lucky that I was able to share my interest in baseball with my two sons. But one trip we never made as a family was to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The logistics of pulling that together now presented challenges. Brett, 29, lives in Nashville with wife Shawna and is busy as a member of the administrative staff of a large YMCA in Brentwood. Keith, 26, lives in Davenport with wife Kelsey and is likewise busy as a financial analyst for Modern Woodmen of America in Rock Island, Ill.
But, last fall I started to think that something very special in our baseball passion could come together. I had a pretty good hunch that former Braves pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux would be elected to the Hall of Fame. As a young lefty who became a die-hard Braves fan in the early 1990s, Brett took a particular liking to Glavine, the Braves’ crafty southpaw.
Keith’s favorite player from his favorite team, former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, was also eligible for election to the Hall of Fame. I thought he had a good chance, too, but I was less certain.
In the back of my mind, I started to prepare a proposal to them that we do a father-son journey to New York if both Glavine and the Big Hurt were elected.
In December, the announcement sealed the deal. Not only were Glavine, Maddux and Thomas elected for 2014 induction, but also former managers Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre. Now, we all had someone of interest. Cox, of course, made it a trifecta for Braves fans, and LaRussa and Torre both had ties to my Cardinals.
They were both on board with clearing their schedules in late July and making a long weekend of it. The stars were aligned for a trip of a lifetime.
What are the odds that my son’s favorite two players would go in the Hall of Fame together? And, at the same time as two managers from my favorite team!
I owe Scott Vicker big-time for dumping all of the sports coverage that weekend on his lap, but this opportunity was too good to pass up.
We decided to all meet in Davenport and hold our annual Peterson Open golf tournament on Thursday after Keith got off work. Brett flew into the Quad Cities and I drove over from Creston.
On Friday morning we drove to Chicago Midway Airport for a flight to Albany, N.Y. (On the way we stopped at a truck stop in DeKalb and five busloads of Cubs fans poured in. They were on their way to the Cubs-Cardinals series that weekend. The blue invasion was alarming to a Cardinal fan! I think my tweet called it “horrific.”)
We rented a car and drove across northern New York to Utica, about 45 miles north of Cooperstown. (Rooms are quickly snatched up in the tiny village of Cooperstown, pop. 1,600.)
The neat part about staying in Utica is that one of my college roommates went to Whitesboro High School, just a couple of miles west of our Days Inn in Utica. We even got to sample the food at Joe’s Pizza, a legendary local spot known for its tomato pie recipe. I would never imagine dining in Al Minnegerode’s hometown when I met him 36 years ago in Iowa City’s Hillcrest Dorm. But there I was, another surreal moment from this adventure.
Our Cooperstown experience started on Saturday, the eve of the induction. Swarms of baseball fans had descended on this scenic village. We stood in line to see the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum and found out later we were part of a crowd of 6,700 visitors that day, second only to the crowd in 2007 when Cal Ripken Jr., and Tony Gwynn were inducted.
Taking a short break at a hot dog stand on Main Street early in the afternoon, we spent a total of four and a half hours browsing the three floors of exhibits, watching videos and perusing the Hall of Fame plaques. I was enthralled with all of the history at my fingertips, and I think Brett and Keith were likewise impressed.
I found myself stopping and staring at the glove used by Willie Mays when he made that infamous over-the-shoulder catch on a drive by Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, one of sport’s historic moments.
“Willie Mays was one of my favorites,” I explained to Nate Tenopir of the Atlantic News-Telegraph, interviewing me about the family trip. “The glove he used for the catch of the Vic Wertz fly ball, when he wheeled and threw it back to the infield ... I just sat there and looked at the glove that made that catch. I’ve been watching that catch my whole life.”
Brett was enthralled with the impressive Babe Ruth exhibit area, with so many articles and historical artifacts to observe. Keith saw a lot of White Sox history on exhibit, including their World Series championship rings from 2005.
We could have spent another full day in there, truthfully, and not gotten bored.
After leaving the building late in the afternoon, we knew we had a couple of hours to kill in downtown Cooperstown before the Parade of Legends down Main Street. Brett had been online investigating the schedule of autograph sessions scheduled at various locations.
Fortunately for me, time hadn’t expired for an appearance by Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith in a local restaurant. He was signing directly across the table from former Red Sox and White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk.
Brett, meanwhile, got in a huge line to get an autograph of former Braves pitcher John Smoltz, a likely inductee in 2015. (Each of these autographs had a price, so you had to be judicious in selecting them. Also, new inductees were busy and unavailable for autograph appearances until Monday, when we would be departing.)
When it was my turn for Ozzie’s autograph, I mentioned to him that I had seen him at a Clarinda A’s banquet in the 1980s, when he told me about his unique Rawlings six-finger fielding glove. That perked his attention a little and he smiled as he signed my baseball.
Our run of good luck all weekend continued when it was time for the parade. The corner we just happened to pick as a viewing spot turned out to be the exact location where emcee Gary Thorne, former ESPN announcer and current MASN (Mid-Atlantic Sports Network) broadcaster, was announcing all of the legends as they passed by.
It was the spot where their vehicles would slow for the TV cameras. We were within 10 or 15 feet of the greatest legends of the game, and even exchanged greetings with both Thorne and some of the Hall of Famers. (Whitey Ford pointed at me and told me, in jest, to get him a beer!)
All those people passing by, in a matter of 30 minutes, was one of the most fascinating experiences of the weekend.
How about this lineup of Hall of Famers passing right by us in order: Whitey Ford, Ernie Banks, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Lou Brock, Billy Williams, Johnny Bench, Rod Carew, Fergie Jenkins, Reggie Jackson, Carlton Fisk, Tommy Lasorda, Phil Niekro, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Carlton Fisk, Tony Perez, Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith, Eddie Murray, Dennis Eckersley, Wade Boggs, Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Andre Dawson, Whitey Herzog, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin and this year’s inductees Bobby Cox, Tom Glavine, Tony LaRussa, Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Joe Torre.
Man, that was surreal to see all of those legends at once. (The next morning we saw Rickey Henderson at the Albany airport, but he didn’t seem thrilled about being recognized. A quick wave and a brisk walk away.)
As the day concluded Saturday, we went out to the Hall of Fame ceremony field south of town to place our chairs in a good spot. That was a tip I got from a veteran attendee while in line for Ozzie’s autograph. Iowa Hawkeye chairs were pretty easy to pick out in a crowd in upstate New York.
The various inductions of writers, broadcasters and the new class of six took three hours Sunday afternoon. But it was the fastest three hours of my life.
It was an unbelievable experience to see my son’s favorite players give their induction speeches, including an emotional one by Thomas, who spoke of how proud his late father would be at that moment.
Time flew by because you’re just hanging on every word. The crowd of 48,000 was believed to be the second highest yet, but they project the town to be invaded by 120,000 or more when Derek Jeter goes in after the five-year waiting period.
We finished up with a trip to famed Doubleday Field just off Main Street, and a toast to our weekend at one of the local pubs, which were swarmed by Braves and White Sox fans.
One Braves fan about my age, obviously enjoying his stay in the bar for an extended time, pointed at us sitting together and slurred a question, “Hey! There’s a Cardinal, a Brave and a White Sox. How do you guys get along?”
Just fine, buddy, We then engaged in a discussion about who’s the better manager, Cox, LaRussa or Torre? It was a spirited conversation, but not testy.
The next morning, Mother Nature had waited until then to dump steady rain on the region. We had travel issues — waited an hour on a plane with no air conditioning in Baltimore, only to be told we’d have to get off and board another plane because of the mechanical issues.
Fortunately, Brett was still able to make his connection flight from Chicago to Nashville, by a matter of minutes. Keith and I drove to Davennport, where I got in my car and drove until 1 a.m. in Des Moines, where I took in some Class 3A state baseball the next day in preparation for my all-state voting later in the week.
It was back to the work routine, much to Vicker’s relief.
But those four days together with my sons, enjoying a trip to the shrine of baseball, was even better than I envisioned back in December.
If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of going to any Hall of Fame that means something to you — Springfield (basketball), Canton (football) or Cooperstown, I highly recommend it.
And if you can, take your kids. Mere words can’t describe how it feels when you’re there, soaking it in together.
On the way home I said to the boys, “Well, I’ve taken Deb on her dream trip to Maui (currently hammered by a hurricane), and now you guys to Cooperstown. So if I keel over on the plane, I’ll go with a smile on my face!”
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