Celebrating past accomplishments and future possibilities
By Matthew Taylor
Cal Ripken may as well have been quoting James Earl Jones last Sunday when he stood at the podium at the Clark Sports Center and remarked, “Today is about celebrating the best that baseball has been and the best it can be.”
James Earl Jones, playing the role of Terence Mann in the classic film, “Field of Dreams,” summed up the beauty of the sport in similar fashion: “This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”
Jones’ classic rhetoric in “Field of Dreams” does well to describe my experience at Induction Weekend. His words, some of which are quoted below, speak to the innocence of youth, the peace associated with that period of life, and baseball’s ability to trigger memories of those treasured times, places, and feelings long past.
They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. “Of course, we won’t mind if you have a look around,” you’ll say. “It’s only twenty dollars per person.” They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack.
They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game, and it’ll be as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick, they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.
Some of baseball’s most accomplished players and managers appeared in Cooperstown for Induction Weekend. Many of them are connected with the game’s greatest moments. But for me, it was more about the hometown heroes whose presence brought to mind their more youthful, archetypal images and the pure joy of being a young fan.
Chanting “Ed-die” throughout an at-bat and believing all the while that enthusiasm conferred strength upon players. Only later did I learn that “Ed-die” was more than just an exhortation; it was an expression of gratitude as well.
Seeing Earl charge out of the third base dugout and knowing he would fight the good fight in theatrical fashion. There was a certain instructiveness in Earl’s determination to right perceived wrongs.
Watching Cal range deep into the hole and make the difficult look routine. It took a while before the lesson set in that greatness can sometimes be subtle, defined more by consistency than flashiness.
Seeing Eddie, Earl, and Cal in Cooperstown also brought to mind simple, meaningful moments that extended beyond the field.
Soaking in my father’s own childlike excitement following the ’83 Series as he led an impromptu family victory celebration. He punctuated the celebration with a dash to the family car, where he repeatedly honked the horn.
Heading to visit my grandfather and eagerly anticipating his predictably grumpy response to the question, “How bout dem O’s?”
Leaving school early with dad to see the first-ever game at Camden Yards, an O’s-Mets exhibition on my birthday.
And a host of shared experiences that provide a consistent link to family and friends.
Inevitably, the sense of nostalgia I experienced during Induction Weekend was accompanied by sadness for days, people, and innocence lost. But Cal, like James Earl Jones, invited optimism from his audience by looking forward while celebrating the past.
Said Cal: “And finally, as I experience another new beginning with this induction, I can only hope that all of us, whether we have played on the field or been fans in the stands, can reflect on how fortunate we are and can see our lives as new beginnings that allow us to leave this world a bit better than when we came into it.”
From his celebration of unheralded heroes who show up for work every day, to his call for people to help young people lead better lives, Cal demonstrated in his Cooperstown speech an understanding that baseball at its best is about more than what happens on the field.
Read Cal’s entire speech at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum website.