Commentary by Rick Rodriguez
As a kid growing up in the Oakland, California in the early 1970's, one of my first loves was the Oakland A's and the game of baseball. In 1971, I was about to experience some amazing seasons as an Oakland Athletics fan and equally amazing baseball history!
Of course, along with my love of baseball was my passion for collecting baseball cards and learning about baseball's history including this artist's rendition of Babe Ruth's famous called shot in the 1932 World Series. I became familiar with stars of the 1960's primarily Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, Harmon Killebrew, Pete Rose, and others that stood out as the players I most admired.
In the decade of the 70's, the Oakland A's would win three consecutive World Championships and would produce three Baseball Hall of Famers, Rollie Fingers, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, and Reggie Jackson from those championship teams! It was quite a time to be a baseball fan growing up in the area!
Last week, I got to relive those memories when I finally paid a visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. In fact, I wasn't sure if I'd ever get to Cooperstown simply because it would take quite the effort just to get there. The Baseball Hall of Fame is located in upstate New York (3.5 hours drive from New York City) so typically driving to get there is the best option. However, since I was working in the region in a volunteer capacity for the Professional Golfer's Association (PGA) at Oakhill Country Club near Rochester, New York the time was now or never!
Cooperstown itself is a very small town than can easily be walked in a short time. It is littered with small shops peddling every baseball thing imaginable for the fan of yore and the one that just might have witnessed his/her first ball game.
Upon arriving, I immediately stumbled into a baseball card shop and got into a nostalgic conversation with the shop owner. As I thumbed through hundreds of cards he had displayed, I saw some real beauties but nothing compelled me to clump down a wad of cash for their possession. What had happened? The old Rick Rodriguez would have thought nothing of exchanging hundreds of dollars for ownership of boyhood stars. But, after remembering what angst this part of what has become of baseball, the monetization of the sport and the baseball card business, $6500.00 for 1952 Mickey Mantle in this shop for example, I thought wow "this ain't the 70's no more!" And, while I knew that and have known that for a long time, it just felt different this time.
The next morning I walked to the Hall of Fame from my motel in ten minutes or so. I browsed every floor seeing things I expected, and one that I did not, an original T206 Honus Wagner Tabacco card, recently sold for $2.1 million, and really a well presented history of baseball and its contributors both on and off the field. It is a virtual encyclopedia of the game in a palpable sort of sense.
As I walked along among these baseball greats and their testaments to the game, I pondered my own history with the game including the World Series, playoff, and regular season games I've attended; the venues where I have watched baseball; the baseball cards I've collected, the players I've met personally including a recent golf game with Hall of Famer Joe Morgan (see picture below), winner of two World Series Championships along with MVP awards in 1975 and 1976 with the Cincinnati Reds, and my passion for the history, memories, and joy the game has given me.
Cooperstown and The Baseball Hall of Fame merely reminded me of where I had been for about forty-four years of my life. It reminded me about how much the game has been an intrical part of my life. A child's game that has followed me through my youth to now that of my son. An indelible connection that seems to pass from father to son each spring. Conclusions that sometimes end in joy or misery depending on the fortunes of those of your allegiance, but; what the Hall of Fame did not give me was what I brought there with me.......memories of a lifetime.....a green bat, kelly green and gold uniforms, the summer days of a boy's childhood wrapped around around the love of the game of baseball.....
Rick Rodriguez is a San Francisco Bay Area native, graduate of Saint Mary's College, and an avid blogger. His numerous interests include golf, travel, trail running, hiking, reading, politics, and writing. He lives in Danville, California with his two children.
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