Tobacco cards from Chicago's famous Tinkers to Evers
to Chance trio are displayed at the Baseball Hall of
Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
N.Y. — I go to sleep each night watched over by a
portrait of Roberto Clemente. I wake up each morning and
see a baseball signed by Sandy Koufax. In between, I can
glimpse Los Angeles, Washington and Cleveland baseball
caps hanging from the mirror in the guest room.
don’t live in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. It
just sometimes feels as though I do.
home-field artifacts that make up part of our oddball
decor — which I allow and he adores — are bush league
when viewed through the prism of the real hall. In
September, my baseball fan / interior decorator / husband
and I made the trip to that mecca in Cooperstown.
hall ended up in this burg because, the story went, Abner
Doubleday created the game here in 1839. You have to want
to come here to come here, set as it is in the rolling,
wooded hills of central New York, about a four-hour drive
from the Big Apple, a little more from Niagara Falls. By
the time the hall opened in 1939, the Doubleday story had
the drive along two-lane roads did allow for a swell of
anticipation. As my husband’s excitement grew, so did
our speed. He prayed we wouldn’t get lost. I prayed we
wouldn’t get killed.
prayers were answered, and as we entered on this last day
of summer, the pieces of one of my life’s puzzles began
to fit together.
inside the entrance are statues of Clemente, Lou Gehrig
and Jackie Robinson, who exemplify "courage and
character." My fan was so transfixed I wasn’t sure
we’d see the rest of the museum, and I wasn’t sure why
sheer adrenaline didn’t carry him forward.
finally did. The memorabilia is fascinating — the
American Tobacco baseball cards of Joe Tinker, Johnny
Evers and Frank Chance, the Chicago Cubs double-play combo
who are memorialized in the poem "Baseball’s Sad
Lexicon" ("These are the saddest of possible
words: ‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’"); the gear
of Dodgers Ron Cey, Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey and Bill
Russell, infielders who played together for more than
eight seasons; a sombrero given to Angels Manager Mike
Scioscia by Arte Moreno after he acquired the team in 2003
(Moreno was the first Mexican American to own an MLB
team); reproductions of hate mail sent to the immortal
Robinson. They are a glimpse into the history of the game
and a commentary on our country. If you’re not a fan,
you’ll still be staggered by how the sport and our
amazed me were the spontaneous conversations that fans
struck up with one another. My usually reserved husband
chatted up a storm with another Dodgers fan, each adding
to the other’s storehouse of knowledge in a place that
was a repository of it.
spent some time, too, in the wing honoring the writing
greats, where I nodded hello to the pictures of the late
Jim Murray of The Times, whom I didn’t know, and the
late Joe McGuff of the Kansas City Star, for whom I once
worked. Like the best players, they plied their craft with
grace and good humor.
we finally reached the actual Hall of Fame, beginning with
the "class" of 1936 (Christy Matthewson, Honus
Wagner, Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson and Ty Cobb), I knew
time would stand still and so would my husband. He looked
up at the plaques honoring Koufax and Clemente, reading
them over and over.
it dawned on me that his was more than just admiration for
Clemente’s and Koufax’s athleticism. These baseball
players, extraordinary on and off the field, stood in for
the father that one Angeleno boy lost just as he was on
the cusp of manhood. They were his role models, his guide
to being a grown-up, for doing one’s best and playing
the father he idolized, they were his heroes. On that day,
in a red-brick building dedicated to these boys of summer,
they became mine too.