I was reminded Sunday of why I fell in love with baseball.
I was flipping channels, after church, and came across the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, from Cooperstown. For the next couple of hours, I was mesmerized.
If you’ve never been to Cooperstown, you need to put it at the top of your bucket list. It is the shrine of the National Pastime, where Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle are forever in their prime and age never gained on Satchel Paige.
The sleepy little village comes alive each year on or about the third weekend in July when the list of immortals that have been inducted into the hall is increased and fans from coast to coast — and beyond — gather to pay homage to the Boys of Summer (and early fall).
Truth be known, I know a lot more about the old timers than the new inductees. It has gotten hard for me to watch the game anymore. They take too long between innings and change pitchers too often and it takes three and a half hours for them to do what used to take two. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to the games on television for years now.
But I still love baseball and appreciate those who do it best.
When I was 6 years old I injured my left eye, which is another story for another day. But during one of my visits to Dr. Calhoun’s office in Atlanta, my daddy bought me a present in the gift shop. It was a set of baseball cards featuring every Hall of Famer at that time. It was 1958 and the Hall was only about 20 years in existence. I don’t remember how many HOF-ers there were at the time, but I know that I played with those cards and memorized the names and stats from the back, and can still see the pasteboards in my mind’s eye.
There was Chief Bender and Honus Wagner and Pie Traynor and Tris Speaker, as well as those household names like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. I think I was on my way to becoming a bit of a baseball historian before we got home from Atlanta that day.
My favorite part of Sunday’s induction ceremony was when they introduced the older guys. Goose Gossage still has that wonderful mustache, even though it has turned snow white, as has the hair on my head, or what is left of it. Brooks Robinson is a little bent over. Billy Williams is a lot rounder than when he patrolled the Wrigley Field outfield. But Sandy Koufax, who will be 84 in December, looked like he could still throw an inning or two if the Dodgers needed him, and I’m pretty sure Lou Brock could steal a base.
The Hammer. Hank Aaron was in the house, although, at 85, he needed help getting to his seat.
Too many were not there. Mickey Mantle is long dead. So is Yogi. Ernie Banks passed four years ago. Whitey Ford and Willie Mays and many other heroes of my childhood weren’t able to make the trip this year. But so many precious memories flooded my soul with each name that was called. Ancient memories, from childhood, and many happy memories from more recent times. Greg Maddux. Tom Glavine. John Smoltz. Chipper Jones. Thank you, Braves.
Then the newcomers were introduced and made their speeches. I questioned whether most of them were really worthy. Still do. But I was happy for them. And then they introduced The Sandman.
Mariano Rivera is the most recent inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. They saved the best for last on Sunday. Mariano Rivera is the only human being ever elected unanimously into that exclusive club. Not the Babe. Not Ty Cobb. Not DiMaggio. Not anybody. Until now.
And nobody has ever given a better acceptance speech. He said nothing, really, about himself and very little about the game of baseball. Instead he talked about life in general and thanked the people along the way who made his career possible, from his father and mother and youth coaches to his wife and teammates and the Yankee fans who supported him throughout his 20-year career.
But before he thanked any of those people he thanked his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, right there on national television, and the show was live so there was nothing any producer could do about it.
I love baseball, length of current games notwithstanding, and I love Jesus Christ, so Sunday’s telecast was a win-win for me. Now if we can just shorten those games, and get rid of the designated hitter, maybe I can watch again.