July 24, 2011
Who You Find in Cooperstown
Today is Hall of Fame Day. After years (or decades) of waiting, Roberto Alomar, Bert Blyleven, and General Manager Pat Gillick will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame this afternoon in Cooperstown, New York. It should be a great afternoon. All three men are worthy additions to the Hall and should have been honored sooner. The thousands of visitors to Cooperstown today will have something to remember for years and years.
In the winter of 2006, I went to the Hall of Fame for the first and (as yet) only time. It was the day after Christmas and the Terrific Girlfriend surprised me by telling me that we would be making the three-hour drive from western Massachusetts to Cooperstown. Needless to say, I was excited. The trip was great. There was no snow or anything on the ground, but driving through the hills of rural New York was lovely. And then we saw the town: a simple main street (called Main Street!) dominated by the Hall of Fame. I don't know what I was expecting, but this was perfect.
The highlight of the trip came after we left the museum, though. We walked on down Main Street to check out some of the stores in Cooperstown and to have a drink before heading back on the road. We ended up at the bar in Doubleday Cafe, drinking a local brew and talking about all that we had seen that day. Sitting a couple of stools away from us, just around the bend of the bar, was a white-haired old man in a Yankees cap, alone.
I have no recollection of how the conversation started, but I'm glad it did. He told us about his life and his love of baseball. He told us about his time playing ball as a young man in New Jersey and palling around with Yogi Berra before he made it to the major leagues. If I remember correctly, there was even a story about a birthday party at one of Yogi's bowling alleys. There were questions about watching the greats of the game in the 1940s and 1950s: who was the best player you ever saw? What did you think of Ted Williams? Questions like that.
The three of us chatted for 45 minutes or so nearly five years ago, so while it's only natural for me to have trouble recalling the details of the conversation, I still kick myself for not remembering everything he told us. You see, when I think back on my trip to baseball's Mecca, it's not the museum that I think of first. I loved seeing the plaques and the jerseys and the scorecards, of course, but it was that brief conversation at the bar that was the highlight of the trip. It was talking with a man who clearly loved baseball about his life and his love of the game that brought everything into proper perspective. The Hall of Fame was built to celebrate the game, and it does a remarkable job of that within its walls. But it goes beyond the walls. It goes to the people in the streets as well, people who flocked to Cooperstown as children, as parents, as old men and women because of the joy the game brought to their lives. It was from that conversation that I realized this and it was then that I knew just how special the Hall really was.
Before we left for the drive back, the old man gave us his card. He said that he was hoping to sell his memoirs and, if we ever wanted to contact him, to just give him a call. His name was Charlie Turi. I think about Charlie at least twice a year, whenever the Hall of Fame is in the news. With the induction ceremonies this week, I went online hoping to find out more information about Charlie, to see if he ever got those memoirs published. I was sad to see that Charlie passed away last summer at the age of 85. That time we had in Doubleday Cafe was probably just another day for Charlie, but it was something special to the Terrific Girlfriend and me. I do find it a bit comforting, though, to see that Charlie passed on July 31, 2010; he got to see one last Hall of Fame weekend before saying good-bye.
The card that Charlie handed us (which is still in my wallet) was a bit unique. Instead of a single-sheet business card, it was folded over with a "Thought for the Day" written on the inside. This was the thought Charlie left us with:
"In a quiet moment, alone -
Thanks for the day, Charlie.