Ed Ackerman

Ed Ackerman Pittston Progress cv30ackermanp2 Warren Ruda / The Citizens’ Voice

I was in Cooperstown, New York, in 2002 for the induction of Ozzie Smith into the baseball Hall of Fame. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan and in the ’80s, Ozzie was my guy. When he retired I promised myself I’d be in Cooperstown five years later. I was that sure he’d be a first-ballot selection.

Phillies announcer Harry Kalas won the Ford Frick Award for broadcasters that year, making the ceremony even more memorable.

But the most fun I’ve had in Cooperstown was not that Sunday afternoon. It was the times I’d go there on the Saturday of induction weekend with my pal Mike Caputo. We’d drive two-and-a-half hours to Cooperstown and 40 years into our past.

Brooklyn Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella said, “You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you too.”

That last part applies to baseball fans as well. On those Saturdays in Cooperstown, Mike and I were little boys.

The thing we liked about those Saturdays is that the town, nothing more than a little village, would be crawling with old ball players. They were there for one reason: to meet us fans. They’d line Main Street and sign autographs, pose for pictures, and shoot the breeze about the game.

I still dig out the photo Mike took of me and Warren Spahn. I was in third grade the year Spahn and his Milwaukee Braves won the World Series.

They let us out of school to go home and watch game seven on TV. I lay on the floor writing my times tables in one of those old fashioned tablets and praying for the Braves. That afternoon in 1957 I became a baseball fan.

Next to Spahn that day was Whitey Ford. He was drinking beer out of a can wrapped in aluminum foil to disguise it. It reminded me of my dad at Gouldsboro State Park when we were little. Alcohol was not allowed at state parks.

We met Yogi Berra one year and Mike said to me, “Watch this.” After Yogi signed his baseball, Mike said, “One more thing, Yog. He was out.”

“I know he was!” Yogi yelled, reminiscent of the tirade he went into when Jackie Robinson was called safe stealing home against the Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Mike knew what he was doing.

Not all the Hall of Famers were around on those Saturdays, but many of them were. We talked for a long time with Gaylord Perry one year, got Goose Gossage to pose for a photo with my uncle another, got stared down by Reggie Jackson for God knows what reason, and often saw Pete Rose hanging out like a kid with no money peering into a candy store window.

Then Corporate America got their hands on it.

The last time Mike and I did our “Saturday in Cooperstown” things were different. Gone were the ballplayers from Main Street, replaced by, well I guess you could call it a system. The last thing Cooperstown needed was a system.

Set up outside a stately old hotel was a management company with big, glitzy posters and a computer. The posters listed all the ballplayers who were available for autographs and the times you’d be allowed to see them. After their names were dollar amounts. Fifty bucks for this guy, eighty for that.

Mike and I were disgusted. So much so that even when I saw the name Lou Brock listed, I refused to sign up. Brock was one of my favorite Cardinals, joining the team in 1964, the year I began rooting for them. Sure, I’d love to meet him, but I refused to give in to the “machine.” It wasn’t the money, it was the idea.

Mike understood, but as a good friend, decided to save me from myself. “I know how you feel,” he said. “It’s just not the same. But Lou’s your hero.”

He talked me into it, and I was glad he did. Until 3 o’clock, my appointment time, rolled around and Lou Brock wasn’t there. “He’s on his way,” the businessman running the operation said. He said the same at 3:30 and again at 4. I had bought a new baseball for Brock to sign but by 4:30 I was afraid if he did finally show up, I’d tell him to stick the ball you know where and walk away.

But it didn’t come to that. Lou never showed. The businessman refunded my money, not in a pleasant manner, and offered no explanation, just a scowl.

I told this story last week to a former student who is now living and working in Philadelphia. He’s a baseball fan and we made plans to go to Cooperstown together if the world ever gets back to normal.

Two days later, he was the one who broke the news to me that Lou Brock had died. It was cancer. He was 81.

I still have that unsigned baseball. Every now and then I get it out for a game of catch. Even without an autograph, it connects me to Lou.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.

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