God’s green earth holds many special places, but we all have one that calls us back time and time again, beckoning us with priceless memories, and the promise of new ones made each time we answer that call.
For me, one of those places is Cooperstown, N.Y., home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
For as long as I can remember, the game of baseball has been my drug of choice. A rabid Houston Astros fan, I was an odd duck growing up in Hornell, which earned me the nickname “Astro” for a time.
In my childhood, there were three men I looked up to. My dad, my older brother and former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell. I can remember vividly turning on the television at age 9 in 1996 and watching a homer jettison effortlessly over the fence.
When the man retired after the 2005 season, I could have cited even the most obscure statistics regarding his 13-year career.
Over the years I would make many trips to Cooperstown, either to bask in the warm glow of the aura of other baseball gods like Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn who were inducted into the Hall of Fame 10 years ago, or for pure recreation, as a weekend escape from college in Utica and Syracuse.
When I got the chance to return once again this weekend after a lengthy absence for business and pleasure, the word "no" did not exist in my vocabulary.
All weekend I would have press access to my heroes. The Hall of Fame Class of 2017 includes Ivan Rodriguez, Tim Raines and of course, Jeff Bagwell.
In addition to the stars of the weekend, 55 of 73 living Hall of Famers were present in the otherwise quaint village, whose population can swell from 1,770 during the off-season to a quarter million during Hall of Fame Weekend festivities.
Fans get to shoot the breeze with great baseball minds like former, long-time managers Jim Leyland and Tony LaRussa. Two of baseball’s greatest strategists chatted with fans as each teed off at the Leatherstocking Golf Course.
“Did y’all see that bomb,” Leyland said after a long straight drive on the 11th hole.
The likes of Hall of Famers Ryne Sandburg and Don Sutton could be spotted shopping on Main Street, among the legions of tourists, adoring fans and autograph seekers.
There are few things like standing face to face with your childhood heroes and recognizing them for what they are: Human.
Not god-like figures created in the minds of little boys who have grand dreams of propelling a ball over a fence 420 feet away, running 360 feet to round the base and score the winning run, or just traveling the 201 miles from Hornell to Cooperstown to revel in it all.
Of all the speeches given by Hall of Famers, one quote summed it up best for me.
“Baseball is the game of life. It’s not perfect, but it feels like it is. That’s the magic of it,” said Hall of Fame player, manager and executive Joe Torre.
Jason Jordan is a Sunday Spectator staff writer.