See the picture? That's us. Santo’s Boys.
In a story that's not really even about baseball.
This is a story about telling somebody something before it's too late. Could be a wife, husband, parent
friend. Could be anyone. It could even be a hero.
The story opens under the shimmering moonlit darkness of the rolling green forests in Cooperstown New York. We were, in our minds, still wearing the uniforms shown in the picture as we scaled the fence to sneak on to the old baseball field and pretend that we were legends too.
As a prelude to the ceremony we would hold tomorrow, each of us got our turn standing ready at the foot of the diamond. The park was called Doubleday Field.
Looking ready. Looking cool. Like the picture but in motion. For each of us, a blazing pitch smacked, popped off into the stars. Perhaps still soaring now. From all those years ago.
Kicking up the dirt along those base paths of lives left to live. Sliding in safe as if safe was forever. Preparing for the ceremony that we would hold tomorrow.
The guy who looked like Bill Murray was the honcho of this crew. Pretty easy to guess who the Moran brothers were. Then there was Jim and Tom standing on the left, and me as a Boston guy, leaning on my bat as if I did that every day on my trip to those ‘green fields of the mind.’
Exhausted from the leaping and running, later that night as we trundled out of that park, getting ready to scale up the fence again, we looked about 15 feet through the darkness to our left and realized that there was a wide open gate, ready for anyone to walk right through. Climbing fences when all we had to do was walk through the gate.
Course we didn’t think much about that, instead we were off to search for the coldest beers and girls with laughter that sounded like summer. Girls who might have some clue as to what it meant to be one of Santo’s boys. Someone who understood why this mattered.
Because if one were to make a movie of our ceremony on the following morning, that clue as to why this mattered would be very hard to see.
On that green and golden late summer morning of the ceremony, looking from afar, you'd see this clump of guys standing on the side steps, away from passing foot traffic, at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Look closer you’d see us taking turns holding a baseball card. As you watched, you’d see the guy with the card step lower, look up at the rest of us, say a few words, then climb back up and hand the card to someone else who did the same thing.
When we were done, we trooped into the National Hall, took the baseball card, and scotch taped it up on the wall next to the plaque of a player named Ernie Banks.
10 minutes later, a security guard ripped down our taped up honor.
Looked at from a distance, the movie would go black when the card was ripped off the wall. The story would end.
But there are times when none of us choose when our stories end.
Because what happened years later, was that we got to tell Ron Santo the story.
We got to tell him, and even better, we got to show him what he meant to us by this story of how we inducted him into the Hall of fame on our own. Lot of people talked about how he should be there. We put him there.
To show another person what they mean to you. To take the words. Words like, inspiration and courage and respect and love. To take words like those. And then to fill them with the dust kicked up under summer moons. To fill in the green of the forest, the smell of promises, the music of laughter and always the hope. We got to DO something to show someone we cared.
And then we got to TELL him about it.
We got to give MEANING to the words. We got to do that.
This weekend, after nineteen tries over umpteen years, Ron Santo will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The announcement was made one year and two days after Santo’s death at age 70.
There will be a lot of sadness at the fact that this did not happen when Santo was alive. But if you look hard and use just a little bit of imagination and hope, you just might see a tiny nick or piece of tape on the wall next to Ernie Bank’s plaque. That’s from the first time Ron Santo was put in the Hall of Fame.
And if you keep listening, you’ll hear the real story here. The story for everyone. The one that has nothing to do with baseball at all.
That story about the time you got to tell someone what they mean to you.
And if you were as lucky as we were, you even got to show it.