OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD
Its been a gut-wrenching baseball season for St. Louis Cardinal fans. The passing of broadcaster Jack Buck on June 18th took the wind out of Cardinal Nation, then the tragic death of 33-year old pitcher Darryl Kile four days later brought this massive red-clad army of loyalists to its collective knees. The fact that the club has remained in contention in arguably baseballs worst division -- the NL Central -- is a credit to the fortitude of the players . . . and hardly seems to matter in the larger scheme of things.
Some golden sunshine, however, should break through the clouds this
Sunday when Cardinal legend Ozzie Smith -- all by himself -- will
represent the 2002 class at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,
New York. Only the 37th player in history to be elected to the Hall in
his first year of eligibility, Ozzies credentials speak for themselves:
13 Gold Gloves, more than 2,400 hits, almost 600 stolen bases, a member
of four division champs, three National League champs, and the 1982
world champion Cardinals. As Whitey Herzog -- his manager for eight years
in St. Louis -- argued so vehemently, Ozzie saved a lot more runs than
many of his contemporary sluggers drove in. Even if his numbers didnt
punch his ticket, Ozzie belongs in Cooperstown for his nickname alone.
You keep the Yankee Clipper, Georgia Peach, Say Hey Kid, and Splendid
Splinter. Considering what Ozzie Smith did with his wand, er, glove, no
nickname in baseball history has been more appropriate than the Wizard
Im traveling to upstate New York to see Ozzies induction ceremony
Sunday, and Im going with my dad. My wife and daughter will be staying
in Memphis, my mom at home in central Vermont. The person who passed
along my beloved Cardinal gene is going to accompany me to see my hero
receive baseballs ultimate honor.
This is where it would be easy to drop some sentimental clichés about
fathers and sons and Americas great national pastime, having a catch on
Saturday afternoon, and watching Kevin Costner movies till you choke up.
But it occurred to me as I plan this trip with my dad that, aside from
our unending devotion to all things Cardinal, we have more than a few
Dad is a college professor, has made a living standing in front of
students not quite sure they want to hear what he has to say. I, on the
other hand, get anxious speaking in front of a staff meeting of, oh,
five. Dad loves to golf, maybe not quite as much as he loves to
fly-fish. Im an atrocity on the links -- Ive never even made contact
with a driver -- and I dont so much as own a fishing rod. Dad was a
rather solid halfback for the Central High football team here in Memphis
during the late Fifties. Still not having cracked 150 pounds, I was a
mediocre shooting guard and a good-glove-no-hit outfielder for a tiny
high school in the Vermont hamlet of Northfield (where my folks still
Whatever our surface differences may be, though, the values around which
my father and I shape our lives are all but identical, and that most
certainly includes our love for Cardinal baseball. And dont doubt that
this storied franchise is a part of our DNA. On our first visit to Busch
Stadium together, we witnessed the unveiling of a statue honoring the
first great Cardinal, Rogers Hornsby. Happened to be my paternal
grandmothers birthday. Speaking of birthdays, Dad was born in 1942, the
year Hornsby was inducted into the Hall of Fame. I was born in 1969, the
year the greatest Cardinal of them all -- Stan Musial -- was inducted into
the Hall. And here in 2002, as Ozzie joins the pantheon, you guessed it.
My wife is due in September.
Since Kiles death a month ago, Ive been somewhat of a wandering fan.
Wins havent felt quite as nice, losses certainly havent ached the way
they once did. And a part of me needs to regain the emotional volatility
passionate fans of any team come to understand and accept as an element
of unconditional loyalty. My guess is a trip to the Hall of Fame -- with
my dad, no less -- is going to be a major stride in that direction. After
all, we fall in love with baseball -- with baseball teams -- as part of
that lifelong search for heroes. How delightful that I get to see one of
my heroes crowned in his glory . . . with another hero at my side.