COOPERSTOWN REVISITED

     I’ve been to Cooperstown, New York many times over the years.  I was sitting in the lobby of the Hyatt in Buffalo and sipping my overpriced coffee while thinking that a few hundred miles east, the normally sleepy village would be over run with people on this induction weekend.  I thought about my trips there, both the good and the bad.

     My most vivid memories come from 1991.  I was working for WSYR radio in Syracuse and they sent me to cover the ceremonies.  I plunked myself into the middle of the lobby of the Otesaga Hotel to try to catch interviews as the Hall of Famers checked in.  It was the last time Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio appeared there together.  My head was spinning.  Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Bobby Doerr all checking into the Otesaga.  I was like a kid in a candy store.  All of a sudden, the front door swung open and with the sun shining on him, it looked like God, himself was walking through the door.  I was in the same room as Theodore Samuel Williams, Teddy Ballgame.  It was surreal.  The reporters converged on Williams as you would expect.  He was a bit cantankerous.  No surprise.  What shocked me was how many of these baseball greats were cranky and unappreciative of the fans.  Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Reggie Jackson and a slew of others spurned fans and autograph seekers, who had travelled into the middle of nowhere to meet their idols.  After the media throng had waned, I figured now was my chance to get his autograph.  It’s a no-no for the media to ask for a signature, but I didn’t care.  It was Ted Freaking Williams.  I took a baseball out of my briefcase and asked- “Mr. Williams, would you please sign this?”  He ignored me.  I figured “He must not have heard me.”  Again I tried.  “Mr. Williams, I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan.”  He signed for a little kid to my left.  Now I was getting annoyed.  A last ditch effort.  Guns blazing- “Mr. Williams, 20 years ago this week, I was at your baseball camp in Lakeville Massachusetts and you never showed up.”  Williams grudgingly snatched the ball out of my hand and without ever looking at me, signed it and dropped it back into my hand.  Are you kidding me?  This is what I looked forward to?  True story.  In the summer of 1971, my parents sent me to the Ted Williams Baseball camp where one of my teammates was future Major Leaguer, Jeff Kunkel.  I was a chubby kid who couldn’t hit, catch or throw.  They might have been better off lighting the money on fire.  Anyway, part of their sales pitch was that Ted shows up at every session and spends at least a day, talking with the kids and signing autographs.  He was a no-show and knew that I couldn’t have made up the story.  He signed the ball.  It means nothing to me.

     That same day, I ventured out to the back porch of the hotel.  It overlooks beautiful gardens, an idyllic setting.  Sitting on a rocking chair, enjoying a warm breeze, was an elderly woman.  Very unassuming.  I sat in the chair next to her to cool off.  She looked at me and smiled. “Hot in there, huh?”  As  I was about to respond, I realized who it was.  Red Sox owner, Jean Yawkey.  I introduced myself and we chatted for about 15 minutes.  About the Sox.  About my job.  Nothing special, just small talk.  It’s an experience I will always treasure.  What a lovely lady.

     On another occasion, I was there to cover the Hall of Fame game.  the Dodgers were scheduled to play, but it was raining.  I took the opportunity to talk with L.A. manager, Tommy Lasorda.  standing underneath my blue and white umbrella, he answered all my questions.  Just as we were wrapping up, they announced that the game had been cancelled because of the weather.  As I thanked him for his time, he asked me for a favor.  “Son, would you mind escorting ‘Annie’ to the team bus under your umbrella?”  Of course I wouldn’t mind.  As I looked up, I discovered that ‘Annie’ was Ann Meyers Drysdale, one of the greatest college basketball players of her generation and the widow of Dodgers Hall of Famer, Don Drysdale.  As we walked the 50 yards, or so to the bus, I offered her my condolences on the recent passing of her husband.  She thanked me and stepped onto the bus.  That was it.  In all, maybe we spent a minute together.  The following March, I was in Utah for the NCAA tournament.  I was a broadcaster for the Syracuse University Basketball team.  The day before the game I was at the teams’ shootaround.  I was at a table, preparing my chart for the game and watching the practice.  Out of the blue, Ann Meyers Drysdale  appears.  She tapped me on the shoulder and asked- “Excuse me, aren’t you the gentleman who escorted me to the bus on that rainy day in Cooperstown?”  I was floored.  She sat down and we spent the next two hours talking about everything under the sun.  She was there, working for CBS.  Another experiene I wil not soon forget.

     Over the years, I’ve broadcast a game from there.  Met my idol, Carlton Fisk there and taken my baseball fan daughters, Eva and Carly there.  Cooperstown is a special place, filled with memories.

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