As previously mentioned in Part One, I spent my Cooperstown Saturday surrounded by hideous waxworks, lunkhead former closers, and the extended family of my all time favorite baseball player. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Even I, with my storied imagination, couldn’t dream of something like this.
I honestly thought that it couldn’t get much better than that. How could it? But Sunday was on its way, a day in which two of my childhood heroes and inspirations would forever be enshrined in the ageless brotherhood of baseball immortality. And fate, or karma, or what have you, held more surprises for me.
Again, I couldn’t sleep. I was more excited about this than I was when I got married, which, in hindsight, is actually very sad to admit. The weather forecast wasn’t all that great for the day – light showers on and off until early afternoon, which would make a wet and humid day in the morning until such time that our intrepid heroes made their way to the tent overlooking the masses surrounding the park.
People who had driven down, or were smart and bought a cheap chair from the hardware store in the village, had staked their claims at the fences nearest the tent, or in line with the podium so that they could get good photos. I, not being that smart or prepared, had nothing with me but a notebook, a camera, a small purse, and my ample bottom on which to sit. The grass was moist, and my legs began to cramp after a while, but I told myself that pain is an illusion, and the joy I would get from this moment would last me a lifetime.
I got to Clark Sports Center bright and early. By that time, there were several hundred people already milling about. The ones who deposited their chairs early didn’t have to come , but we suckers who didn’t had to come early or risk not getting a good view at all. Being alone gave me an advantage. I found a spot close enough to the stage that I could see without binoculars and also had a clear view of the giant video screen erected for those unlucky enough to find a decent seat.
I called my mother and checked twitter while I waited. I had about five hours to kill and couldn’t really go anywhere, so I figured why not? Of course, it rained on and off, and then the sun came out, becoming quite warm. It was the end of July, after all. I was wearing a Braves away jersey and my partially autographed Braves hat – even though I was there for Maddux, I did also want to support Glav, too, and so I decided to wear my Braves gear for the actual ceremony. Between the rain and the heat (and, later, tears), the sunscreen I put on my face disappeared. I forgot to bring more. Needless to say that afterwards, I was red as a beet. But, again – momentary setbacks for a lifetime of memories.
I’m sure many of you watched the speeches, so I won’t go into detail. I had a feeling that Greg would go first, because he is a man of few words and even fewer that are fit for public consumption (as unassuming as he was, he did have a mouth on him). His speech was the shortest of the afternoon, just as I imagined it would be. And it was funny, and weird, and touching, also like I thought it would be. I cried. The happiest, most heartfelt, realest tears I have ever cried in my life. From basically the moment he came up on stage until about five minutes after he sat down, I cried. Silent tears rolling down my cheeks, falling onto the notebook I brought with me to chronicle Glav and Coach Cox’s speeches. But nothing took my attention away from my favorite player in the world, the one who made me truly fall in love with baseball, who gave me a reason to smile when I was a sad and lonely teenage girl. For that reason alone, my gratitude and love will never fade.
I admit, towards the middle of Joe Torre’s speech (which was the last speech), I had about enough of sitting on a soggy patch of grass. My butt hurt, my knees were sunburned, my back was aching. I decided to head back to my car so that I could put my camera away and turn on the A/C for a moment to blast the coldest air I could onto my poor crispy face.
My friends John and Jim sent me a text during this time, inviting me to lunch at that same cheesy bar with the bad wax figure. Food was the last thing on my mind; I was incredibly thirsty, though, and a Sprite would have hit the spot, so I took them up on the offer. After blasting my face with Max A/C for about five minutes and moving my rental car back into an actual parking spot (I had been parked illegally, as had probably 75% of the other cars in the area), I decided to walk into the village to meet up with my new friends.
By this time, Torre’s speech had concluded, and a swarm of humanity was flooding the streets. I was like a salmon moving upstream, going against the tide of overly warm yet jubilant baseball fans. Suddenly, I heard a loud chorus of voices that sounded vaguely familiar saying, “Hey! Remember us?”
For some reason, I turned around. There, a few feet away on the other side of the sidewalk, were the Maddux Cousins. Paula and Youngish Cousin waved enthusiastically, motioning for me to come over. I looked around, wondering if they were looking at someone else, but it was indeed me they were talking to.
They were dressed in very nice sun dresses and cute hats, and both of them had fans that the Hall of Fame Committee had given to all of the special guests of the inductees. They also wore special pins that had a photo of Greg and the induction date on it.
I am still at a loss as to how, in a sea of literally thousands of people wearing Braves jerseys (I’m not exaggerating), these two women and their assorted family members remembered me. It wasn’t like I was wearing the same jersey or hat that I did the day before. I was sunburned and didn’t look my best. And I wasn’t that close to them to begin with. And yet… they not only recognized me, but went out of their way to call me over to them.
I still can’t believe it.
Anyway, Paula and Youngish Cousin smiled and grabbed me by the arms like I was an old girlfriend or something. “Did you have fun? Wasn’t it great?”
“He did a great job. I cried a little bit,” I replied.
“I was surprised he talked as long as he did,” Paula said.
I then told Paula I hoped she had a safe trip back to Indiana and Youngish Cousin to have fun at Niagara Falls, which was her next stop after Cooperstown, and headed off to meet John and Jim in the village.
Speed ahead several hours. I went back to the museum (one of the perks of being a member of the Hall is that I can just basically waltz into the building ahead of everyone, enter into a special door, and get in for free as many times as I’d like). I went back to the Maddux and Glavine exhibit, took a few more photos, looked at the Tom Seaver exhibit again, and entered the plaque room to take a few photos before standing in line to be one of the first people outside of the Hall of Famers and their families to see the plaques.
I chatted with my linemates. The nicest of them was an incredibly tall gentleman from outside of Chicago who had to have been in his late twenties. Frank Thomas was his favorite player. I couldn’t see to take photos of the plaques when they were presented to the room before being affixed to the wall, so the tall kid decided to take the photos for me with my camera. Once the plaques were adhered to the wall, members of the inductees’ families were ushered into the area from a side room ahead of everyone else, to have photos taken and to touch the plaques, etc.
Out of the corner of my eye I notice a familiar face. And that face was getting closer to me.
There stood Paula, smiling and waving. “Hey! I’m glad to see you! Don’t go anywhere.”
Which was ridiculous, because I was basically barricaded in this line.
She walks off, then comes back about three or four minutes later with two more people in tow. Two people who look really familiar. I mean, really, really familiar.
At the exact moment I realized who was standing in front of me, Paula introduced us. “This is Dave, Greg’s dad.” The lady standing with him was Linda, his mother.
There I stood, sunburned, exhausted, dressed in a jersey and a pair of shorts, meeting my hero’s mom and dad. I was so embarrassed, and yet Paula didn’t seem to think it was a problem.
Like a dolt, I took my cap off. My ponytail was falling apart, and after about ten hours in a hat it looked terrible. But taking your cap off is the ultimate sign of respect, so I did it. Dave smiled at me and held out his hand.
I shook Greg Maddux’s dad’s hand. “Sir, ma’am, it’s an honor,” I quietly said to them both.
They both smiled again, and then Paula ushered them away, because there were a lot of people around and it was only a matter of time before the crowd realized that Greg Maddux’s parents were standing there talking to little ol’ me. As they walked off, I heard Paula say to Linda, “That was the really big fan I was telling you about yesterday!” I stood there, in utter shock, marvelling at the ridiculous good fortune that I had been blessed with.
When I told my friends about my experiences, most of them had only one thing to say to me. [Prof], it’s life finally giving you something in return for all of the good you put into the world. I’m not sure if I can believe that, but there’s one thing that I know for certain.
It was the greatest day of my life.