My first memory of baseball was T-Ball.
Kids from all over Sonoma County, Calif. gathered at a big grass field on makeshift diamonds where we learned how to hit a ball as it sat defenseless on the end of a rubber tube. We also learned how to run the bases and where to go with a grounder if we were able to smother a bounding ball in our stiff mitts.
The best T-Ball rule/tradition involved the position of the pitcher. The kid occupying the "mound" had to execute a phantom motion of bringing the heat before the batter could take a swing. If you had a view from a tall tree the whole scene would've looked like a group of kids trying to catch a pig dipped in Vaseline. It was anything but baseball. I remember parents yelling a lot as soon as the ball was put in play: "Get it! Get it! Throw it! Throw it! Hold it! Hold it! Tag him! Tag him! Go! Go! Stop! Stop!"
My dad was an understated little league parent. He was usually in a business suit and a tie and he never yelled much. He had moved Heaven-and-earth and jumped the early bus out of San Francisco to try and catch the last few innings of almost every game. My dad preached one message no matter the sport I played--have fun out there or go home. It didn't matter if I was on a winning team or a losing team. It didn't matter the quality of coach I had or if the umpires calling the game could determine a ball from a strike. I knew if I wasn't out there on the field with a smile on my face and cheering for my teammates, my career would be cut short. I appreciate that now, and I hope I'm like my dad with my kids some day--making sure they focus on sportsmanship and the concept of being on a team as opposed to innings played, batting average or a win-loss record. Don't get me wrong, he hates to lose and so do I, but it does take a man to grasp the concept of being a good teammate as well as being gracious in defeat.
Spring has sprung, which is why I'm writing about baseball. I have supported the San Diego Padres all of my life, so I've been a fan of a team who knows a lot about defeat.
My favorite player is Tony Gwynn. "Mr. Padre" played all 20 of his seasons in the San Diego sun and was a 15-time All-Star. He finished his career with eight batting titles and has a lifetime batting average of .338. He only hit below .300 once, and that was his rookie year--he hit .289. Gwynn was a hitting machine who was also a gentleman on and off the field and certainly gracious in defeat. In July of 2007 Gwynn was a first-ballot inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Last fall, my parents, who are now both in their 70s, came to New York for a visit. Over the years of living in Manhattan we've done lots of Broadway, museums, steak dinners and the Circle Line Tour. We've seen Lady Liberty and Ellis Island, and we've been down to pay our respects at Ground Zero. We had never been to Cooperstown to see the Baseball Hall of Fame. The fact that Gwynn was in, peaked my interest. We loaded up the car with a little luggage, golf bags and Johnny O, a best friend from college also living in Manhattan. My buddy Paul is a Yankee fan living in Boston. He met us at the Otesaga Resort Hotel, the rather glamorous and proper option for lodging in Cooperstown, which has been there since 1909.
Cooperstown is 200 miles northwest of New York City. The conversation and the colors of the leaves on the trees made for a quick trip. The last few miles, along Otsego Lake, made me want to buy a small boat and fish for a living. Drive around Cooperstown in the fall and you have the sense you've been plopped into a painting.
Bucket lists are specific to an individual, but there are a few things all sons should try to do with their dad if they have the chance: Watch and talk golf at the Masters (check); listen to stories about the Alley Oop (the name given to the pass thrown by quarterback Y.A. Tittle to his receiver R.C. Owens when they played for the 49ers in the '50s, (check); and tour the Baseball Hall of Fame (check).
We only needed about four hours at the Hall of Fame. It's not as big as I thought it would be. We posed for pictures, listened to and watched various videos, debated odd stats and facts about players from different generations. I left impressed with Ty Cobb. He wasn't nearly the gentleman that Gwynn is, but that crabby man Cobb could hit. He's first in career batting average (.366). He's second in career hits (4,189), runs (2,246), and triples (295). He's fourth in doubles (724) and stolen bases (892). In 1911 he had a decent year; Cobb had 591 at-bats, he hit .420 and had 83 stolen bases.
The Hall of Fame isn't the only game in town. On Sunday morning my mom made friends at a tiny church while the four boys played a round of golf at Leatherstocking Golf Course.
It was a rather religious foursome. We had a Matthew, a Paul and not one, but two people by the name of John Francis. The weather was also a bit Biblical. It was cold, wet and windy. As a result we had the course to ourselves. We loved the golf course, the views of the hotel and lake were memorable, and don't try to cut off too much when you tee off at the par-5, 18th hole or you won't make it over the water.
The match was Johnny O and Paul versus my dad and me. Team Ginella lost the front nine and we were in trouble on the back nine until Papa John rattled in a 25-foot net birdie putt on the 17th hole and I shook in a 20-foot eagle putt at the 18th. The good guys ended up owing $5 each, but we laughed a lot, played as a team and we were gracious in defeat.
Pops, thanks for leaving work early to make it to my games all of those years, the lessons learned about sportsmanship and for the recent trip to Cooperstown.
Now get back out here so we can get our five bucks back.
-Peak season in Cooperstown is Memorial Day through July 31st and Sept. 1st through Oct. 12th.
-A standard room rate at Otesaga Resort Hotel for two people during peak season is $509 a night, which sounds high, but it includes gratuity, breakfast and a huge dinner in the main dining room. (800-348-6222).
-There is a dress code in the main dining room of the hotel. The food is first-rate, just be sure to bring slacks and a sport coat.
-A round of golf at Leatherstocking Golf Course is $85 if you're a guest of the hotel, $95 for non-guests. Twilight (after 3:00) is $60 if you're a guest, $70 for non-guests.
-A tour of the Baseball Hall of Fame Museum is $16.50 for adults, seniors: $11, kids 7-12: $6, and kids under the age of seven get in free. The museum is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. The general hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except Memorial Day through Labor Day, when they're open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. (888-HALL-OF-FAME).
CAPTIONS (from top to bottom): The Otesaga Resort Hotel; Leatherstocking Golf Course; the Baseball Hall of Fame; Tony Gwynn's plaque; Papa John, Mom, me, Paul and Johnny O.