Bucket Lists & Baseball
At some point or another, nearly everyone has been faced with questions about what’s on their ‘bucket list.’ While the idea of a list of things to do before one dies seems morbid to some, there’s also a good deal of hope behind the idea of a bucket list, and the concept that a person can set goals about having certain experiences in their life and work to make them happen. However, these hopes and aspirations have a risky sidekick – lofty expectations. When those lofty expectations aren’t met, disappointment is a natural reaction that sometimes balloons to despair and even feelings of betrayal. That cycle of hope, expectations, and disappointment is one all too familiar to most sports fans, and it plays out season by season, team by team.
Personally, I’ve never been one to keep a meticulous bucket list; I don’t always ruminate on something for an extended time before making it happen. Sports-related events and trips might be the one exception to that rule however, since there are so many high profile championships and storied traditions in sports. It would be nearly impossible to watch Wimbledon annually and not dream of seeing The Championships in person one day, or to be enveloped in the passion and grandeur of the World Cup without hoping FIFA stops awarding it to places like Qatar so it can be a realistic life goal again. Similarly, growing up as a kid who watched and played a ton of baseball in America, there are a handful of ‘cathedrals of the game’ one dreams of visiting. The Field of Dreams in Iowa is one that I’ve crossed off the list, and Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame has most definitely made my shortlist.
It was more than a trip to Cooperstown being on my bucket list though. The trip to Cooperstown was always more of an eventuality; I knew I would make it at some point in my lifetime. For the last five years or so, that vague certainty has formed more definitely, as my family and I declared that we’d be there when the first Seattle Mariners player was inducted – the most likely candidate of course being Ken Griffey Jr.
I can’t help but have expectations about what Cooperstown will hold, and how it will feel to walk down those hallowed halls that hold the memories and history of the first sport I came to love.
I can’t help but have expectations about what Cooperstown will hold, and how it will feel to walk down those hallowed halls that hold the memories and history of the first sport I came to love. I’m also aware that I can’t stop myself from having unrealistic expectations, and of course some fears that those expectations won’t be met. And now the time is here: at the end of this week, my father and I will make that pilgrimage to the place that represents America’s pastime for the Hall of Fame induction on July 24th, 2016.
Managing expectations can be a painful, learning experience. Ultimately, I believe that higher expectations in a particular game or season can be accompanied by higher emotional investment as well. This can so often be a double-edged sword, as the payoffs from high investment and high expectations are fantastic when things go well, while the let-down from defeat or disappointment can be devastating. For that reason, sometimes having no expectations at all is the setting for a great outcome.
I was passing through Newport, Rhode Island, earlier this year, and while walking down the main street I happened to stumble on the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Even though I consider myself a fairly knowledgeable tennis fan – there’s a good chance that I ran into a souvenir from the Tennis Hall of Fame at my Grandpa’s house growing up – I was completely shocked to find the Hall of Fame that day. I walked across the street, and to my delight it seemed like one could walk right through the building into an interior courtyard without paying admission. As soon as I got into the entryway, a beautiful grass tennis court greeted my eyes from within the courtyard, pristinely manicured and perfectly aligned. The idyllic setting actually almost took my breath away, and seemed so right for the sometimes hoity-toity, but true-to-tradition sport. Even without entering the Hall of Fame itself, one could learn a great deal about the sport in that courtyard.
If I had been planning to visit the tennis Hall of Fame and had seen pictures and built up my expectations, I honestly don’t think the experience would’ve quite measured up. There was a sense of wonder that day that I can pinpoint to my lack of expectations. For that reason, I have tried to keep research for the upcoming trip to Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame to a necessary but minimum level. I know, for instance, that there is a large lawn on which the induction ceremony takes place – partially from watching it in past years – and I know that there is a separate Hall of Fame building, and of course have heard of Doubleday Field. Once my father and I make our way inside the Hall of Fame, I have only my knowledge about baseball as a sport to guide my expectations. I expect the Baseball Hall of Fame to exude tradition, reverie, and respect for the past greats of the game. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there were no mention of the great steroid controversy on any of the awards and statistics that should have one of those pesky little asterisks immortally attached. I expect the hallowed halls of Cooperstown to be just that: sacrosanct (perhaps to a fault) and beautiful.
Expectation of Emotion
Beyond the overall feel of the Hall of Fame, I’ve tried not to spend time making assumptions or guessing at details; that said, I do have to wonder if they’ll sell peanuts and crackerjacks. One thing I do know for sure: there will be ‘crying in baseball’ on this weekend, no matter what Tom Hanks tells me. If not for the pride that I have in my Seattle Mariners and one of my childhood heroes, Jr., then most definitely when the late Mariners announcer, Dave Niehaus, is memorialized or his voice rings out from a recording at the induction. Click on the image below to get a sense for how much he loved the game of baseball.
Dave Niehaus was the Mariners announcer for my childhood, and for entire childhoods throughout existence of the Mariners franchise until his passing in 2010. Dave Niehaus and his calling-card “My, oh My!” call simply is Mariners Baseball for so many fans. He embodied the connection that every kid announcing their own home runs in the backyard had to the team. Niehaus is also the only Mariner currently in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, having won the Ford C. Frick award for announcers in 2008. There will, of course, be references to Niehaus during the various speeches that focus on Ken Griffey Jr. during the induction, but only his friends and those from Seattle will truly understand what he meant, and continues to mean, to the Mariners. Safeco Field, the current home of the Mariners, may be the stadium that Griffey built, but it will always be Dave Niehaus’ home.
I wasn’t the only kid from Seattle influenced by Dave Niehaus
Blending of traditions
But of course Cooperstown will be about so much more than just the current inductees and the celebration of the Hall of Fame weekend. We will also tour the rest of the grounds and exhibits, learning and recounting the history of baseball and its interwoven nature within American culture. There will be the ultimate disappointment of seeing so many other teams’ successes. There will be the moments of ruing missed opportunities in years that should have ended with ultimate glory – looking at you, 2001 Mariners with a record 116 wins. And then there will be the special moments of finding details or statistics that may seem minute to most people, but huge in the memories of my childhood – moments and mementos that mark pieces of baseball history that I witnessed with my own eyes and are now immortal in Cooperstown.
There will be the special moments of finding details or statistics that may seem minute to most people, but huge in the memories of my childhood – moments and mementos that mark pieces of baseball history that I witnessed with my own eyes and are now immortal in Cooperstown.
Finally, there will be the hours-long debrief between my dad and I during the car ride back to our hotel in Albany, and ultimately back to the New York City area before returning to Seattle. I know that regardless of how Cooperstown lives up to our expectations, sharing the weekend together will be a memory I cherish forever.
Whether it’s the ‘curse’ of Griffey hitting a homerun ‘every’ time my dad left the old Kingdome seats to get us a snack in the 90s, or the story of us blasting Dave Niehaus’ call of the game from my dad’s Jeep with the top off during the early 2000s, our family’s traditions and stories will be recounted and relived in Cooperstown this weekend right alongside the fanfare of baseball’s tradition and history. While I try to manage my expectations of the Baseball Hall of Fame by keeping my pre-existing knowledge of details and exhibits at a minimum, I have no such fears about the experience we’ll share. It’s been a long time since my dad and I have actually played a game of catch, but I think I’ll tell him to bring his glove along to Cooperstown.