Thursday, August 2, 2007

Hall of Fame Weekend

Last weekend I made the way to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. There was no way I was missing Cal Ripken Jr’s induction into baseball’s most hallowed halls. I lucked out in that I had a family reunion the same weekend about 2 hours away. Of course the actual reunion party was the same day as the ceremony so I missed hanging out with my family, well missed might not be the right word, but I was able to stay at my uncle’s place and save money on a hotel room.

At 7.00am Sunday morning Chris, my brother-in-law, and I set out from the small town of Mexico, New York for the two hour drive to Cooperstown. We were meeting up with Sam and Tony, two friends from Baltimore who had spent the night in Albany. Neither Chris or I were 100% sure where we were going, but we had Mapquest directions and fresh Starbucks so we were sure it would work out.

After riding through some pretty nice scenery we made it into town. We actually hit downtown Cooperstown before we realized it – the large crowd milling in the streets and the blocked off streets kind of clued us in. We lucked out and found a parking spot in a lumberyard that only set us back $30 and was in walking distance of Main Street. Well more like hobbling distance. On Saturday the two of us had walked/ran/stumbled through a 5K race in downtown Oswego New York. The muscles were quite sore as we wandered around what might be the most perfect town in the US.

It’s really hard to describe what the town is like. It has a very quaint (I’m sure the locals hate that word) look to it. Brick buildings and neatly manicured lawns make you feel like you’re on a movie set. If I had a chance to talk to a local or two they probably could have filled me in on the drawbacks of living there, but for 7 hours on a warm summer Sunday it was absolutely perfect. Even being one of 75,000 people crammed onto one street only 7 or 8 blocks long wasn’t a problem.

Everyone that we ran into seemed generally happy to be there even the four or five Padre fans that came to see Tony Gwynn’s induction. Walking down the street it was fun to see the various Hall of Famers on the side of the street signing autographs. Hey look it’s Frank Robinson! Hey it’s some other guy! Hey it’s George Will!

Needless to say a good time was had by all. The crowd ranged from the very young to the very old. There did seem to be a lot of fathers and sons there taking in the ambiance. So even now in a time when baseball is supposedly dying the love of the game and of the history of the game was being passed along to future generations.

However, I was bothered by something all weekend long. My allegiance to which team is “my team” had been wavering all weekend. On one hand the Rays are easier to follow after all they are in my home town. The more I thought about it the more I realized it as an intellectual attachment. I have no problem being patient, reasoning their trades (or lack of them), watching as they fail knowing that there is a larger plan.

On the other hand the O’s are the team of my childhood. When I was young kid just back from Germany they were there for me. Heck they won the World Series the first season I could follow them, how great is that? They represent my emotional attachment to sports. I want them to win and I really don’t care how they do it. I want to be able to walk through JFK airport wearing an O’s hat and not be subjected to snickers from New Yorkers.

I’ll continue writing about the Rays because I think they’re fun to follow. They have a great young nucleus and as long as they don’t do anything stupid (like trading Carl Crawford) they will contend soon. The Orioles will still have a place in my heart. I am announcing right here and now that I will be a sports bigamist, and a bigamist of the worst kind. I will root for two teams in the same division.

I also felt that Ripken’s induction was the closing of a chapter in my life. He was the one star that I grew up with as a kid. He was there when I was in elementary school and high school. Even during my self imposed exile from baseball in college I sat in my dorm room in college to watch Cal run that emotional lap around Camden Yards the night he broke Lou Gehrig’s record.

Other stars have come and gone from McGwire to Mattingly and Ryan to Clemans – oh wait he’s still around. Ripken was different. No matter how bad things were going he was there. Going on vacation was hard because this was before the internet and 24 hour coverage. Leaving Baltimore pretty much meant losing touch with the team. The closest thing to the internet was This Week in Baseball and I watched religiously hoping there would be a feature on Ripken. In my adolescent mind I felt that was the only medium available to let people know how good he was.

I wonder if his career would be different if he played now. Would there be trade rumors every July when the O’s fell out of contention? Would he have an agent that demanded he rest 10 games a year to prolong his career? Would blogs and a much more cynical media have made the Streak to arduous for him to endure?

In some ways I would like to think he would have been the same. I still picture a tall (some say too tall to play short) figure squinting into the sunlight ready to snag the next ground ball his way. He would still endorse the right things (Coke, Chevy and milk) and rise above any criticism. If there are any modern day athletes to compare him to it would probably be Tiger Woods or Roger Federer. They have their critics, but seem to have the class to rise above the negativity.

Now he’s in the Hall of Fame and his accomplishments are complete. I’m not callous enough to think there are no “good guys” left in the game. Nor do I think they’re aren’t any “loyal” players left. One of the recurring themes I read over the weekend was that Cal and Tony were the last two players who would spend a long career with only one team. That’s leaving out a couple of good players (despite the fact they’re Yankees) in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Trevor Hoffman is a hall of famer who’s spending his whole career in San Diego. It’s still early to tell, but I have a feeling that Ichiro isn’t leaving Seattle.

Hopefully there are kids running around the TBA wearing number 13 Crawford jerseys. Hopefully they have the same chance I did to watch an entire Hall of Fame career develop. Maybe, 10-15 years from now I can go back as a grey-haired elderly gentleman and watch him get inducted and see a sea of green (or blue and yellow) on those rolling fields of Cooperstown. Everyone should have that experience.

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