In the movie Field of Dreams, the character played by James Earl Jones late in the movie is talking to Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) about moving forward with this crazy idea of plowing his revenue-producing cornfield in favor of a magical baseball field where the games greats come to play. He tells Ray that he has a vision where people will come to the field, and “…they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.” In my nearly 35 years of life, I have loved baseball nearly all of them. I have argued with football lovers, basketball fans, soccer fanatics, and the sports agnostic to show them not only my own love for baseball but also to get them to see a glimpse of what I see and why I spend far too much time reading/listening/watching baseball.
This weekend I didn’t have to convince anyone about why baseball is the greatest sport in the world. I breathed baseball, talked baseball with strangers, and watched some of the greatest baseball players of all time pass in front of my own two eyes.
I nearly drowned in the magic waters of Cooperstown, New York, and I loved it.
I was able to attend the festivities after a few days sightseeing in New York with my wife, college friends Mike and Jeff, as well as DDDT co-founder Giuseppe and his dad Anthony. If three words were used to define what’s important to me in life, it just might be family, friends, and baseball, with no guarantee it would be in that order.
A few quick thoughts:
- I’ve never seen so many Padres fans in one place. The Padres, unlike teams like the Yankees or the Braves or Cubs, are a regional team. Having lived in San Diego for about 15 years is what made me a Padres fan, and though I haven’t lived there now for four years, I still love the city and it was great to see many San Diego fans travel all across the country to see Trevor Hoffman inducted.
- A small moment that struck me was going into the grocery store in Cooperstown and every single person wearing gear of their favorite team.
- Though Vladimir Guerrero’s speech was the shortest, it was what he didn’t need to say that won the day. There was a very large and vocal Dominican Republic contingent in attendance, including one man we spoke with who grew up just a couple of houses down from the free-swinging slugger. Their cheers said more about what baseball means to Vlad and thousands other across the world outside of America. His fans brought the party to Cooperstown and no one would be surprised if Vlad stayed out partying with them deep into the night.
- All in our party were impressed with Jim Thome’s speech. I don’t know exactly what we did or didn’t expect to hear – but he delivered either way.
- After playing 5 songs of each, Jon Bon Jovi won out in a car survey over Bruce Springsteen(I voted for The Boss).
After spending a couple of hours in the Hall of Fame Museum Saturday, which I found well organized and a good balance of small historical facts mixed with larger themes about the game, we watched the Main Street Parade.
Hank Aaron was second in the parade after Al Kaline and just seeing him would’ve been enough to make the day a success. The (True) home run King is getting a little older and I had never been so close to him in person. Other highlights of the parade included Johnny Bench doing the Floss, and of course seeing Braves legends Maddux / Glavine / Smoltz / Bobby Cox and John Schuerholtz before the latest and greatest Chipper Jones come down the avenue.
One interactive aspect of the Museum including video boards with famous clips from baseball history. This included watching a ball bounce off of Jose Canseco’s head, Carlton Fisk tagging two runners at home plate on one play, and the famous blown call in the 1985 World Series by umpire Don Dekinger. Most of us there had already seen this plays before, but there is something special about watching these shared moments together that bridge time, generations, and even which team you are a fan of. After all, who doesn’t want to see Canseco get whacked on the head?
There is so much in the museum but a few items that stuck out was the large displays for Aaron and Ruth and the very small display devoted to Barry Bonds which was more of a display about PED use and how “taking away the home runs Barry hit would also take away home runs allowed and the fragile baseball statistical house of cards would collapse” than about the by-the-numbers MLB home run king.
Baseball has a way of connecting disparate pieces and moments together, and traveling through the exhibits learning about the players and the human side reminded me of a George Will quote from Men At Work:
“Sport, they said, is morally serious because mankind’s noblest aim is the loving contemplation of worthy things, such as beauty and courage. By witnessing physical grace, the soul comes to understand and love beauty. Seeing people compete courageously and fairly helps emancipate the individual by educating his passions.”
The Hall of Fame highlights the beauty and courage that is brought out in humanity from a game played around four bases with a round stick and a round ball. Pretty incredible, really.
Saturday night following the parade driving back to our hotel we got stuck in a famous New York summer rainstorm, but thankfully with my Oregon weather training, it was no issue. The weather Sunday was great – without the humidity, one might expect of a summer in New York and plenty of “San Diego-esque” sunshine to go around as Trevor Hoffman pointed out in his speech.
Speaking of the speeches – Chipper Jones – likely the last of the great Braves dynasty teams was first to go. I would say the Braves fans won the crowd battle for the weekend, as Chipper joins the Big Three as well as Manager Bobby Cox and GM John Schuerholz. He made a slight push for Andruw Jones in his speech, whom I still consider the greatest defensive centerfielder I have ever seen, but I don’t think his offense was strong enough for long enough. Not to mention PED concerns given his dramatic drop-off and weight gain.
Chipper told a funny story about his first meeting with Jim Thome – in the minor leagues during a brawl. He said he had rushed the field when “the hand of God” grabbed him and pushed him against the wall. He said that he then heard “You done?” to which he responded, “Yessir”.
He then also made fun of John Smoltz (lack of) hair as you can listen in the speech below:
It was generally agreed that Alan Trammel had the least memorable speech of the afternoon. Noting that he and double play partner Lou Whitaker were drafted the same day and got their first and last hits off of the same pitchers was pretty interesting.
Trevor Hoffman’s speech was very good as well. One criticism was that at least three times he quoted John Wooden, though of course, John Wooden is famous for his way with words. He talked about his humble beginnings in the game as a failed position player and the importance of his family and faith throughout his career. For San Diego fans who don’t get a lot to cheer about – besides Tony Gwynn no one else says San Diego Padres baseball like Trevor Hoffman. While some bring up the fact that his position – closer – is not an official baseball position, what he did with it and for the PADRES is remarkable. I am of the firm position that his career will be looked on more favorable down the line as specialized relievers come and go.
Jack Morris was the first to get choked up on the day as the emotion of the day caught up with him. He has waited a long time for this, only getting elected this year by the Veteran’s Committee after a full 15 years hanging around the ballot keeping his name alive. He goes in with the highest career ERA of any starting pitcher in the ERA but is remembered most for his amazing 10 inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series as well as helping the 1984 Tigers beat the Padres and the 1993 Blue Jays win it all as well.
I mentioned Vlad’s speech above, who thought going in as the first Angel is remembered as much for being an Angel as he was for his early days in Montreal. If you haven’t watched a video clip of some of his greatest/weirdest hits, watch the clip below. He is the first position player from the Dominican Republic and the video tribute was given to him by Pedro to introduce him was special.
Last was Jim Thome, the big Paul Bunyan slugger who is most remembered for his days in Cleveland and Philadelphia. While Chipper had swagger his whole career – Jim Thome definitely across more on the humble side of the spectrum. Especially impressive considering he is one of only a few men to hit over 600 home runs.
I’ve long wanted to attend this event and it did not disappoint. Of course it was made all the more special being able to go with my family and friends that were also able to make the trip. As much as the Hall of Fame itself is the debate about who else should be in that isn’t. That fact was highlighted as we learned later that baseballs all time hit king Pete Rose, himself involved in a good number of exhibits, sat a few streets over from Main Street in a bar signing autographs. Outcast from the Hall itself, they couldn’t keep Pete Rose away from baseball.