This time of year always makes me think of Hall of Fame induction weekend at Cooperstown, N.Y. If you've never made the trek to this diamond mecca in upstate New York, you're missing one of the true hallowed halls of the game we love.
My first trek to Cooperstown came in 1977 and was memorable for a few reasons. Armed with my brand-new Vivitar SLR camera, I spent several hours in the museum snapping off photos of the things that most interested me - mind you, back then, in the pre-digital photography days, there was a limit of 36 images per roll of film, and dad had promised me he'd foot the bill for only one roll of developing and printing - as I made a quick trip through the ages of the game. We were on a family vacation, heading to my aunt and uncle's house in Syracuse, N.Y., after visiting my grandfather's final resting place in Stafford Spring, Conn., and to keep on schedule, there was only time for a few hours at the magnificent brick building on Main Street.
So I chose wisely, shooting images of Babe Ruth's bat, mementos from the 1966 World Series and other things I've long since forgotten. At the end of the day, I tried to roll the film into its canister when I realized something was amiss. The sprocket turned too easily. After a few painful moments of self-realization, dad surmised that the only way to determine that my film was OK was to open the camera - which, of course, would potentially expose the film, ruining it. I hoped against hope as dad popped the back of my trusty Vivitar open and found that the film had ripped while being rewound. I sat on the cool marble of the Hall of Fame and wept, knowing there wasn't time to retrace my photographic steps. We jumped in the Dodge Dart and headed to our hotel destination for the evening.
As if the heartbreak of losing all of my precious photographs wasn't enough, I got a double gut punch after dinner as I sat in the front seat of the car, desperately trying to tune in the evening's Orioles game on the AM radio. Through the crackling static, I was greeted with the sobering news that third baseman Brooks Robinson's career was over. The O's needed a roster spot to activate catcher Rick Dempsey from the disabled list and Robinson, by then a player-coach, would hang up his cleats to accommodate the roster move. I slumped in disbelief, praying that I had misheard the report. But Bill O'Donnell repeated the news, perhaps knowing that a legion of fans would think they'd misunderstood. I shut off the radio and went back to the rustic hotel, tears in my eyes for the second time in a matter of hours at the thought of one of my idols and the end of his career. Baseball does that to you, allows you to experience both joy and sorrow that will move you emotionally. My dad understood and we spent the rest of the night of Aug. 21, 1977 recounting Brooks' many memorable moments.
Fast-forward to 2007 and I was back in Cooperstown, this time accompanying members of the Oriole Advocates to the induction ceremonies for Cal Ripken Jr. Sitting in the field among a crowd of 75,000 fans - most of them sporting O's orange - I remembered the day in 1977 and how dad turned an afternoon I wanted to forget into an evening I'll always remember by letting me talk about my hero. Dad died in 1985, but I never felt closer to him. And as Ripken spoke so eloquently about his late father and namesake, I let the friends around me believe the liquid streaming down my face was the product of a blazing, hot afternoon perfect for baseball.
So, in honor of this weekend's ceremonies to mark the inductions of former O's second baseman Roberto Alomar, ex-Orioles general manager Pat Gillick and longtime Twins pitcher (and O's nemisis) Bert Blyleven, Orioles Buzz marks the occasion with a pair of classic tunes by renowned baseball balladeer Terry Cashman. In addition to singing about Willie, Mickey and The Duke (Mays, Mantle and Snyder, for the uninitiated), Cashman also penned a couple of O's-centric songs - a Baltimore version of "Talkin' Baseball" and a special recording to commemorate Earl Weaver's Hall of Fame induction in 1996. Through the magic of YouTube, here they are:
Alomar, Gilliick and Blyleven won't be the only honorees at Cooperstown come Sunday. The Hall of Fame is marking the 30th anniversary of "Talkin' Baseball" and honoring Cashman, too. Cashman was once a minor leaguer in the Tigers organization and also fronted a late 1950s group called The Chevrons. In the 1960s, he was a member of a three-man folk trio - Cashman, Pastilli and West - and later produced recordings for Jim Croce.