Idealized Americanism

Jul 13 10

Idealized Americanism

Paul Weinstein

I will next be in Cooperstown, NY in four years, or shortly there after, to witness Frank Thomas’ induction in the the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Of all the will he or won’t he arguments I’ve heard on Thomas’ behalf, the most direct is this: In 2000 Thomas was runner up in voting as the American League’s Most Valuable Player. He lost to Jason Giambi of the Oakland Athletics. Of course Giambi’s name is now synonymous with baseball’s Steroids Era. As the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America come to terms with giving the MVP to Giambi ten years ago and had Thomas, who could be considered an “early” advocate of drug testing of professional baseball players, won, he would have a total of 3 MVPs to his name. Of all the players who have won three or more MVP awards – notwithstanding Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez (who have also been connect to steroid usage) or Albert Pujols (who is still an active player) – each and everyone of them is enshrined in the hall of fame.

As it happens, the last time I was in Cooperstown, ten years ago this July. While living and working in Oakland and looking toward a possible Chicago/Oakland post-season, my brother and I undertook a road-trip from Chicago to Boston and Cooperstown to watch a childhood hero, Carlton Fisk, get inducted. I wrote and posted the following shortly after that trip. It is by far not the best piece of writing about baseball or Americana. But it is a first hand account of a short, memorable trip that I’m glad I took.

July 13-25 2000
I think my head is fried from reading On The Road off and on for the past month. My head wants to make this road trip a surreal experience of driving east to New York. Yet, this trip isn’t some Kerouac inspired thought. The simple fact is that I’ve done parts of this trip before, granted not with this level of independence, but none the less, not a coming of age trip it will be. Then there’s the fact that I feel like an old hand at this trip, despite the fact that I’ve only done it twice before and both times I was a passive traveler, once with my parents and bother, once with only my father. There must be something about travel, seeing a place for the first time makes it unique, traveling there again makes it familiar, after that it’s as comfortable as home. The start of my 25th year I’ll be pointed at Boston where I haven’t been for some 10 years or so. This time the history lesson won’t be on the beginning of American, but on her National Pastime, baseball.

My flight out of SFO was a bit of a pain. I got the shuttle bus to the airport with plenty of time to check in and sit about by the gate playing online with C2‘s laptop and my cell phone. Then we boarded the plane and things went down hill from there. As soon as everyone was settled Air Traffic Control put a slow down on flights in-bound to O’Hare, which seem to make everyone go nuts. I just dragged out my cell phone, called Tom to tell him I’d be late and not to hang around O’Hare more than necessary and went back online checking some more email. After about an hour and half of the two hour delay we started back up and off we went. Tom and I had plans to eat out for a birthday dinner, but since I didn’t get in till around 9:30 I had to settle for Portillo’s (no major lost, if you ask me). I chatted with Katie after I got settled in at home and then watched a bit of TV. Tuesday morning we got our things and off we went. The drive itself was pretty much a non event. While I can bitch and moan about Dad’s Lexus (being 6′ 3” has it’s downsides not matter what people think…”oh, it must be so nice to be tall”, “play basketball do you?” and never being able to fit in a car smaller then an SUV covers the top three). I do have to say that one, the gas mileage is great and two, a 6 disc CD changer makes all the different in the world. So we cruised on listening to Perl Jam, Tom Petty, Miles Davis (the best quote of the whole trip is when checking into a Red Roof the clerk looked at Tom’s T-shirt, asked if it was Miles Davis, Tom said it was and the clerk said “Bit young to know who Miles Davis is aren’t you?” You can bet if it’s good music at least one of us has heard it…Tom gets better odds then I, but that’s beside the point), Buddy Guy, Rolling Stones, et al. passing more road construction then I’ve seen in a long time (last time being all those trips downstate Illinois on I-55 to Bloomington/Normal and Springfield). Of course being able to sign online while Tom’s driving helps kill the time too.

South Bend we stopped for lunch, then reached Cleveland just as an Indians/Astros games was about to start. So, we ditched the car picked up two scalped tickets and just missed Houston pick up their first run of the game in the top half of the first. Jacobs Field and the area around the ballpark is a nice little place. The stadium itself looks a bit more modern then say Pac Bell Park, since Cleveland had a lot of land to play with, they have 3 levels of skyboxes and restaurant/bar such as Comiskey, but Jacobs Filed has a less sterile feel. The Indians of course won, but the Sox won their game against the Brew crew to stay 9.5 games ahead. After the game we finished off our driving for the day in Eire, PA. Then after what seemed to be a 5 minute nap, back on the road we went on, after breakfast of course.

We made Boston by evening and after getting all of our stuff into our room we head out to find dinner, which ended up being at a local Irish pub next to the Boston University campus. Thursday morning the first thing we did was to take a tour of Fenway Park. I do have to sat that the organization has done a nice job of not only taking care of the aging park, but of also updating it to offer fans some of the amenities of the newer parks. We continued on and walked over the Boston’s Museum of Fine Art to view a Van Gogh exhibit that was on display. Afterward, we moved on to downtown Boston to see some of the other sights and take in the town. We dined at the Governor’s Alley for an exquisite seafood supper. Then back to our room to call it a day.

Friday we just hung around resting, reading and other whatnots till the Red Sox/White Sox game. Our seats where in center field, about a dead center as you can get for Fenway (and as far from home plate too). The White Sox stayed close to Boston and won the game in the end. It’s truly interesting how for example Jacobs field, while open, clean and friendly has an all most Disney-esqe Main Street/Epco feel to it where Fenway while serving the same functions for fans keeps a more home-grown if a bit rough and dirty, atmosphere that I hadn’t realized I missed from old Comiskey, till now. Saturday it was back on the road to Cooperstown, we’ll Utica to be exact, to pitch our tent, at a local Red Roof, for we where off and running to Cooperstown the next morning.

Twice now I’ve been to an Induction Ceremony and I can’t quite put together a description of the day. The event is simple enough everyone gathers to watch each inductee be announced, to which of course they get to speak about what makes the award special. I don’t want to say it’s devoid of emotions, for that’s what makes the day so special, but overall I guess it’s a matter of what brings a person or people to the event that really makes the event, but that of course varies from person to person, such that the overall feel is hard to describe. After hours and hours standing (forgot the lawn chairs) in the sun Tom and I had a good part of our arms and face burned (forgot that suntan lotion, too), we stop at a local Italian restaurant for dinner before heading into the Hall itself. Most of the exhibits haven’t changed much, all that really has happened is an update to include that past few seasons of ball that have come and gone since last I walked the Hall. Then of course the real event came, the plaques depicting each of the new members where placed on the wall to be included with the other stars of the game. With that all was done, home we went.

Why do this trip? It’s nothing as altruistic as seeing America first hand or learning about the game of baseball. Nothing any of the stars said couldn’t have been heard from some “motivational specialist” or read from any listing of stats about a player. But what was gained is that from now until the end of time I can call on that place and say not only did I watch that baseball player play the game, one who is considered to be among the best, but I also stood here to see him added to this gallery of people for the way he played. In otherwords, I stopped and smelled a few roses.