Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wish You Were Here

As you probably know if you read here with any regularity, a group of my high school friends and I have a longstanding annual tradition of meeting up in Cooperstown for the weekend of the Hall of Fame inductions. Beyond our mutual baseball history fanaticism, this particular weekend has always represented the idea that, no matter how busy our lives are now or become in the future, we'll always be assured of seeing each other at least once a year.

Although there are a few occasional participants, the tradition has evolved to the point today where it's really just two families who are annual attendees.

The two friends who started the tradition with me are now married, and 2012 marked their 26th consecutive year. I skipped 2000 to attend another friend's wedding in Kamloops, British Columbia. The logistics of attending both events in the same weekend didn't quite work out, so I've only been in Cooperstown for 25 of the past 26 Hall of Fame weekends.

In fact, my current streak of 12 straight only places me fourth on our list, as my friends' daughter just recorded her 18th in a row. Her older brother, however, had his run of 19 come to an end for no other reason than the fact he's a college age boy, leaving KJ's four years as the fifth longest current streak.

This year, of course, was Little Chuck's first. KJ and I have decided the weekend is much more enjoyable if we stay until Monday, rather than to have to deal with the post-inductions rush to get out of town on Sunday and make the 4 1/2 hour (longer when a baby's involved) trek back home late in the day. As many times as I've done this, I can tell you it's nice being among the minority of folks who remain on Sunday night.

So, we headed down early on Saturday morning instead of late on Friday, another decision influenced by the little guy. We made surprisingly great time and arrived in town just in time to take part in one of our traditions within the tradition: meeting up with our friends for lunch and beers at Cooley's, which, almost by default, has become our favorite downtown meeting place, despite the fact the service sucks.

I had three beers the entire weekend—all of them Ommegang offerings—including a draft Belgian Pale Ale at Cooley's. It was the second time I've had this beer—both times at this particular bar—and honestly I'm not that impressed. There's something about it being on the overly carbonated side and not full-bodied enough that grates on me, but it could just be I need to taste it from a different source. I guess that will have to wait until next year. You can read about how much I otherwise love this brewery here.

Of course, a lot of memorabilia seekers and idol worshipers descend on Cooperstown for this weekend. Honestly, it's probably not all that much different from a science fiction convention, except the closest the baseball fanatics come to dressing up like the characters they're fans of is donning a player jersey and cap. I'd say that's a far cry from wearing a Chewbacca costume, so I guess it's not quite as extreme.

None of that describes me, but I'm not knocking the folks who are into that sort of thing. To each their own, of course. But, I do enjoy the parade of Hall of Famers down Main Street—I didn't have as good a vantage point as in past years, but a few of my better photos are below—that has become Saturday night's main event these past few years, and, of course, the speeches at the induction ceremony itself.

Dave Winfield

Roberto Alomar

Carlton Fisk

While Barry Larkin did a solid job as the day's headliner, the true highlight of Sunday's induction ceremony was Vicki Santo's acceptance speech on behalf of her late husband, Ron. Prior to the ceremony I was telling KJ my favorite speeches are the ones that add a personal element, and Mrs. Santo hit it out of the park by that standard. Rather than talk extensively about Santo's career, she emphasized her husband's charitable work on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the fact he believed his purpose in life was to use the advantages provided by his God-given baseball ability to further that cause.

Most importantly, though, she stressed that the day was not a sad, but rather a happy occasion, although I couldn't help but wonder if she was really just reminding herself.

"This is not a sad day. This is a great day. Celebrate for Ron. Celebrate with us, and celebrate with him. I'm certain of few things, but I am certain that Ronnie is celebrating with us right now.

"Celebrate his journey. Celebrate his cause. Celebrate an amazing life. Celebrate Ron Santo's life. He truly had a wonderful life."

Until next year...

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