Sports, often an escape from, or a training for, or an enhancement of what we call “real life”. With the advent of the 2012 summer Olympics, it will be a source of national pride and an introduction to many fabulous young athletes from nations all around this globe. But for many Pennsylvanians, right now sport has given them a blow below the belt. The proud alumni and students of Penn State, who likely chose the institution because of its academic strengths, are reeling from the NCAA’s penalization of the football program. And that action will tarnish the reputation and financially affect the university for many years to come. It’s a shocker.
I’ve just returned from a very different sport-related weekend. Chuck and I have attended the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for 27 years. We do this over and over again because it is a sport that we love, but also because we have come to know so many wonderful people who gather in the beautiful village of Cooperstown, NY, for this event. For us it is often like old home week when we get together. I’d like to share some of those people moments from our baseball weekend.
On the large front porch of the Inn at Cooperstown, where the guests gather and rock and swap tales, this year we met Hal McCoy, a Hall of Fame honored sports writer from Ohio. He is the man who created the name of “The Big Red Machine” for the Cincinnati teams of the 1970s and covered the Pete Rose story and the Marge Schott years. But we now know him as a personable man who has been declared legally blind since 2003 (strokes of the optic nerves) but was told by the Reds players that they would not let him retire as a writer, and they would help him with whatever he needed to do to continue. Not too many sports writers get that kind of love in return from their teams. He was in Cooperstown to cover the induction of Cincinnati’s own Barry Larkin.
Barry Larkin. I knew him only as a nemesis to the team that I love. I now know him as a man who could live his childhood dream of being a star, a rather dazzling one, on his hometown team. That’s what he talked about in his acceptance speech…but he delivered some of his speech in Spanish for the benefit of many of his gathered fans and those Hall of Famers whose roots are in the Caribbean or Central America. I wondered where this University of Michigan graduate’s fluency in Spanish came from. Hal McCoy told us that Barry taught himself the language when so many of his teammates were Latino and he wanted to be able to talk with them.
One of the guests at the Inn, named Jennifer, is a writer for the NY Times. She and her son come annually so that he can meet many of the players he idolizes. Jennifer, always toting a few laptops, hoped to spend this weekend writing fluff stuff about fans. Instead she worked from dawn until almost midnight on Saturday communicating with families of the victims of the horrible shooting in Denver. Her mission was to write the stories of those who had lost their lives, a lasting gift to their loved ones. When she wrapped it up late on Saturday, we shared a couple of bottles on wine on the porch and tried to talk of happier things.
Cooperstown has a fabulous summer opera company, Glimmerglass, as well as the famous Hall. Over dinner on Sunday night we began chatting with a man at the next table and soon learned that he is the director of the opera that had just debuted that afternoon, Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars”. His name is Tazewell Thompson. We had already heard that the opera had been received with many standing ovations from friends who had attended while we were at the induction ceremony. This very unassuming man had a very contented air about him, and we chatted about the benefits of the Metropolitan Opera’s live in HD series of operas (Tazewell is all for them),past operas we have enjoyed at Glimmerglass, his future projects…and the fact that we are both long-suffering New York Mets fans.
Sports–they can make us ebullient, and they can break our hearts and dash our spirits. And they are a common denominator, one that brings people together.

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