I once saw a young black man hug a Philadelphia cop, and the cop hugged him back. It was almost midnight, in the middle of what could be described as a riot, and the Phillies had just won the world series.
It was the make up of a rain delayed game 5 and John Hollingshaus convinced me to go down to the stadium without tickets. He thought that maybe some of the ticketholders from the day before wouldn’t show up leaving a bunch of empty seats. MLB doesn’t like empty seats on TV so maybe they would let us in. About 5,000 other people had the same idea and we all watched the game on the jumbo tron as we were smashed up against the gate.A fortuitous rush at another gate allowed us to enter for the final pitch. It was bedlam. Wonderful, joyful, bedlam. The stadium eventually emptied out onto the street and everyone kept marching up Broad st. toward City Hall. Everyone was cheering, old men were crying, and strangers hugged each other.While some kid without a shirt was pulling a potted tree out of the sidewalk someone else was launching fireworks that bounced off the skyscraper walls exploding in the urban canyon. Everyone cheered.
And that is when I saw the young black man and the cop hug.It blew my mind.
I am not truly a baseball guy but that sight, that whole experience, taught me something about collective experiences. It taught me something about the power of elective common identity to occasionally cross boundaries otherwise insurmountable.
Sometimes there are snapshots in time, though temporary, where we glimpse a possibility.
I should preface this by stating that I have never played a game of baseball.
No, not even an inning.
I don’t recall ever playing a game of catch with my dad. Now don’t assume I was neglected, but rather my family’s “All-American” summer past time involved a tipi and black powder, but that’s another story.
I have played maybe ten games of softball, all of which were during my elementary school days; since then I have probably been in a batting cage twice. I have never felt this was a void in my life, or that my sporting experience has been lacking. I enjoy going to the the park, be it Citizens Bank, Turner, or Camden Yards, and spending a summer evening eating sunflower seeds and yelling “hey batter-batter,” but I will not spend more than 1 minute watching the sport on a TV. I do not really have a team, but I love my city, and enjoyed hugging strangers on Broad St. after the World Series win much more than I enjoyed the game.
With all this in mind, I veered off course and headed for Cooperstown.
It’s a quaint little town, well groomed and well keeping of the theme of the place. As I walked toward the front door, a young employee opened the door for me and smiled. Inside another young employee smiled, and showed me toward the ticket counter. The man at the counter took my money, handed me a map, and smiled.
What I found inside was unlike anything I have seen before. It was amazing.
Why amazing? Because inside was America as we hope it is.
There were jerseys from players whose names we all know; Babe Ruth, DiMaggio, Hank Aaron. There were seats from ballparks long gone and memorials to players and events. Here was a game documented and celebrated from its birth down to the present. There were artifacts with information to give context to what you were looking at, presented in a style that brought it to life.
I loved looking at photos of fans in ties and hats, teams that no longer exist, and trophies won before any of us were born. I liked the handle bar mustaches, the knickerbockers, and the stories.
But none of this is why I call it amazing.
I cannot recall being in a place where everyone there was so excited to be there… except possibly Broad St. after the Phil’s won.
I have surely been to no other museum where the patrons were so enthralled by what they saw or read. I watched a grey haired man with a Red Sox hat and khaki shorts, happily arguing with a mohawked and pierced young man who was wearing an Oriels jersey, as they were both hunched over a list of statistics.
I saw families all dressed in matching jerseys, all doing the same activity, and all enjoying it.
Generation gaps were closed, people dissagreed agreeably, and lambs layed down with lions.
If you think the Utopia I have described is as fictional as the Field of Dreams, consider I almost bought a mitt from the gift shop. What would I do with a mitt? Play baseball?
My experience with sport has always been participant first, then when ability or opportunity render me unable, I become a follower. Cooperstown has nearly made me a fan.
Now I doubt I will start tuning in my television, nor will I join the beefy and sleevless guys on the weekend beer league, but I will claim to be a fan of baseball. I am a fan of what it represents in Americana. I am a fan of anything that gets a father and son happily on the same page. I am a fan of summer, and mostly, I am a fan of a museum that would enshrine Barry Bond’s record smashing home run ball with the asterik carved by the fan who caught it, prominantly displayed.