A toast to Pat Gillick’s Hall of Fame induction invite for beer vendor Hart

When Pat Gillick enters the Baseball Hall of Fame in inductions ceremonies at Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday, his tenure as the Orioles’ general manager from 1995-1998 will be a footnote in a storied career that has seen him win two World Series at the helm of the Toronto Blue Jays and another as the GM of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Baltimore fans remember Gillick as the front office boss the last time the O’s went to the playoffs, the last time there was a winning season to cheer. And Gillick also fondly remembers his time in Baltimore, judging from his list of invited guests to the Sunday induction. Among them, according to this Toronto Sun story, is longtime Camden Yards beer vendor Howard Hart.

Turns out Hart - the ponytailed beer hawker who has been one of the stadium’s iconic and top-selling vendors - and Gillick formed a friendship back in 1996 when they met on the set of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where they talked about Camden Yards and its place in baseball’s construction renaissance.

When Gillick joined the Phillies, and Hart was selling frosties at their Clearwater, Fla., spring training home, he joked with Gillick that he’d one day be going into the Hall of Fame - and that he’d be giving his induction speech.

Hart won’t be on the stage with Gillick, former O’s second baseman Roberto Alomar, noted Orioles nemisis Bert Blyleven and the greatest living players in the game. But the beer vendor will be among Gillick’s invited guests with an up-close-and-personal view of the proceedings.

It’s a nice gesture by Gillick, whose ability to connect with people has served him well as a baseball administrator, and the opportunity of a lifetime for a guy who’s as recognizable to some baseball fans in Baltimore as Brooks Robinson or Cal Ripken Jr.

When he was interviewed by Style Magazine for this 2010 story on Camden Yards vendors, Hart put into perspective the feelings of every fan who’s ever stepped foot into the stadium to root for their beloved Birds, even amid too many losing seasons:

“No matter how bad the baseball is, each night is filled with hope. Maybe this game I see a no-hitter, maybe a guy hits three home runs. Maybe the game comes down to the final out, or maybe I see a play unlike any I have ever seen. Maybe tonight an old friend shows up at the park, or maybe I take time to see the joy in the faces of the children. It’s been difficult to do lately - I’m breaking down some physically - and the teams have been of such poor quality. But the beauty is still out there. You just need to pick through the garbage to find it. And, of course, hope springs eternal.”

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