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FROM MY SEAT

FROM MY SEAT

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OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD It’s 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 baseball’s 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, Ozzie’s 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 didn’t 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 of Oz. I’m traveling to upstate New York to see Ozzie’s induction ceremony Sunday, and I’m 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 baseball’s ultimate honor. This is where it would be easy to drop some sentimental clichés about fathers and sons and America’s 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 differences. 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. I’m an atrocity on the links -- I’ve never even made contact with a driver -- and I don’t 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 live). 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 don’t 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 grandmother’s 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 Kile’s death a month ago, I’ve been somewhat of a wandering fan. Wins haven’t felt quite as nice, losses certainly haven’t 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.

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