Guest commentary: Jackie, Henry and Me

Editor’s note: I have another guest submission here, from Will Clark, a devotee of the Negro Leagues, their history and their legacy. Here, Will gives an emotional retelling of one of the most important, moving moments in his life …

By Will Clark

With this past April 15 being the 73rd anniversary of Jackie Robinson‘s MLB debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the image of his Hall of Fame plaque burned large in my consciousness. It all served to bring to my mind a flood of memories, with one in particular standing out.

That was the memory of my first “pilgrimage” to the “Baseball Shrine of Shrines”: The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., and the first encounter with the live viewing of the plaques of Jackie and Henry Aaron (my two baseball heroes).

One early Saturday morning, got behind the wheel of my black 1977 Mercury Cougar XR-7 two-door coupe (named “Queenie,” incidentally), filled up her 26-gallon tank, stuck a cassette in the player, turned the CB radio channel to 19, and headed on the highway.

Armed with AAA “TripTik” routing maps (yeah, this was before GPS, you should know), I cruised along until, a bit more than four hours later, I wheeled onto Main Street in Cooperstown.

Entering the Hall for the first time was, I remember, a humbling experience. I remember, as I walked along and studied the various plaques and exhibits, it felt akin to being in a classic cathedral, a place of reverence. If anyone talked, I wasn’t aware of it.

The one thing that was foremost on my mind was to find the plaques of Henry Aaron and Jackie Robinson, the two ballplayers central in my young life to that point.

It wasn’t very long before I came upon Aaron’s Hall of Fame plaque. Staring at it, felt transfixed, locked into that one spot. A thousand memories rushed through, from every Topps baseball card I owned of his, the books, magazines, newspaper articles.

Then came the memory of the night of April 8, 1974, in a South Bronx fourth-floor walk-up tenement apartment, sitting on a hardback chair on one side, and my father in a similar chair on the other side, both of us watching a black-and-white screen on an old TV set perched atop a dresser drawer.

We witnessed Aaron, taking one quick swing, driving Al Downing’s pitch deep, deep to left field, with Dodger left fielder Bill Buckner climbing the fence in hot pursuit, only to see the ball land on the other side. Through it all, I was remembering a relatively rare occurrence: my father smiling. Felt my eyes beginning to mist and cloud as I stood in front of the plaque.

I continued my reverential stroll through the hallowed Hall, marveling at the exhibits and the legendary names, practically oblivious to anyone else, taking no note at all of the passing time.

Before I knew it, I found myself standing feet from the plaque of Jackie Robinson. Standing in place, eyes locked on the image of a man, a proud, brave man who knocked down barriers, it suddenly felt as if I had stepped into a time tunnel.

I saw and heard my father telling me his stories of the great Jackie Robinson, tales that, with each telling and retelling, brought him to life. I could almost see the large frame in his Brooklyn Dodgers uniform, terrorizing pitchers and catchers with his daring base running, eyes of purpose alight on the diamond.

As it all came upon me, a sense of loss and emptiness permeated my being. For a brief moment, I wished my father (who had died of a heart attack on Sept. 28, 1974) could have been here at the Hall.

An emotional wave swept through and enveloped me, and the tears flooded and burned my eyes, flowing freely. Trying to choke them back proved fruitless, so I just let them flow, caring not one iota who, if anyone, saw me. Then, just as quickly, the flow stopped. I looked into the eyes of the raised face on the wall, and, choking back more emotions, blurted out a halting, “Thank you.”

(Photos from baseballhall.org.)

Many thanks to Will for his excellent submission! And the offer is always open to any and all to submit something of your own. Just email me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com. Stay safe, stay well y’all!

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